In sociology, functionalism attempts to explain social structures as institutions that have evolved to fill social needs; for instance, the government's function is to create and enforce laws. Along with conflict theory and interactionism it is one of the three major sociological traditions. Such functions are also discussed in other fields; for instance, a stomach's "function" is that of digestion.

Structural-functionalism takes the view that society consists of parts (e.g. police, hospitals, schools, and farms), each of which has its own function. Structural-functionalism was the dominant perspective of rural sociologists, although its dominance is waning.

Famous functionalists include:

See also: justified irresponsibility, cultural anthropology
In philosophy of mind, functionalism is the idea that, although the mind has internal mental states, these can be accounted for without taking into account the underlying physical substrate, i.e. the neurons. Instead, one can speak of higher-level representations of functions such as beliefs, desires, and emotions. This position is rather popular today. Proponents of this position include Jerry Fodor.