Hegel on Mind, Action and Social Life: The Theory of Geist as a Theory of Explanation

Dissertation, The University of Chicago (2001)
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Abstract

This dissertation develops an interpretation of Hegel's answer to the question of who or what we ourselves are, or his theory of Geist . The theory of Geist is perhaps most familiar when read as an appeal to a romantic metaphysical or theological view on which we are all part of "cosmic spirit", a self-creating collective agent identical to reality itself. I argue that the theory of Geist cannot be understood apart from Hegel's core concerns, but that these are not the concerns of romantic metaphysics or theology. Instead, Hegel's theory is rooted in his engagement with philosophical problems concerning explanation---problems largely drawn from his engagement with Kant's Critique of Judgment. Hegel's central concern is to make sense of the explanatory status of teleological accounts of our own actions in terms of our ends, and of relations between this and other "levels" of explanation. I am particularly interested in two of Hegel's main conclusions. First, he claims that we are fundamentally social beings, arguing that our subjective states explain what we do only in virtue of our participation in historically developing forms of social life. This first thesis accounts for Hegel's dual use of his central term: Geist refers to the historically developing forms of social life in virtue of which---Hegel argues---we posses the mental or geistig life which distinguishes us from other living beings. Second, Hegel claims that Geist is prior to or "the truth" of nature, arguing that the basic empirical concepts of forces and species employed in the natural sciences owe their explanatory status to their place in our ongoing social endeavor of systematizing our overall knowledge and understanding of nature

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James Kreines
Claremont McKenna College

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