1. Between Conception and Transformation


It Is Only What It Does

This book argues, from a functionalist perspective, that mind is only what it does; and that what it does is first and foremost realized by the sociality of agents, which itself is primarily and ontologically constituted by the semantic space of a public language. What mind does is to structure the universe to which it belongs, and structure is the very register of intelligibility as pertaining to the world and intelligence. Only in virtue of the multilayered semantic structure of language does sociality become a normative space of recognitive-cognitive rational agents; and the supposedly ‘private’ experiences and thoughts of participating agents are only structured as experiences and thoughts in so far as they are bound up in this normative—at once intersubjective and objective—space.

In this cursory sketch the reader may recognise Hegel’s characterization of Geist or Spirit.1 Indeed, Hegel was the first to describe the community of rational agents as a social model of mind, and to do so in terms of its function. The functional picture of geist is essentially a picture of a necessarily deprivatized mind predicated on sociality as its formal condition of possibility. Perception is only perception because it is apperception, and apperception is only apperceptive in that it is an artefact of a deprivatized semantic space within which recognitive-cognitive agents emerge as by-products of a deeply impersonal space which they themselves have formally conditioned. The intertwining of semantic structure and deprivatized sociality enables mind to posit itself as an irreducible ‘unifying point or configuring factor’2 that extends into, encompasses, and integrates both consciousness of itself and consciousness of the universe. In conceiving itself as the configurative or structuring consciousness of itself in the world (or universe), mind is endowed with a history rather than a mere nature or past. It becomes an artefact or object of its own conception. Where there is the possibility of having a history, there is also the possibility of having not only the concept of the concept, but also a history of history—a critical transformation of mind as an object of its own concept, and the critical reconception of the object into which it has transformed. And once there is a history of history, there is the possibility of abolishing what is given in history or purports to be its consummate totality.…

  1. ‘The history of spirit is its own deed; for spirit is only what it does, and its deed is to make itself—in this case as spirit—the object of its own consciousness, and to comprehend itself in its interpretation of itself to itself.’ G.W.F. Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, tr. H. Nisbet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 372.
  2. L.B. Puntel, Structure and Being: A Theoretical Framework for a Systematic Philosophy (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008), 275.