Philosophy of Mind 101: What is the Function of the Mind?


This 101 series enucleates the topics of the inquiries on philosophy of mind and cognitive science from a critical perspective. It covers the topics of behaviourism, mind-body identity, functionalism and computationalism theories thoroughly; and brings more recent concepts, methodologies, and the theories to light. Throughout the series, these theories will be critically analysed. This elaboration as well as the critical analysis is planned to help the reader to have an understanding and comprehension of the mental world, concepts and processes, and different approaches to this realm. The main concerns of this series ask questions such as 'what is the mind?' , 'how does it work?', 'why does it work?', 'what is its purpose if there is one?'. Questions regarding how one understands the world around them amazed thinkers throughout history. This series will take the reader to a journey of different theories and perspectives regarding the mind and mental beings.

  1. Philosophy of Mind 101: The Inquiry on Mind and Body

  2. Philosophy of Mind 101: What is the Function of the Mind?

  3. Philosophy of Mind 101: Are You A Computing Machine?

  4. Philosophy of Mind 101: "We"; Do We Exist?

  5. Philosophy of Mind 101: Co-operation and Cultural Cognition

  6. Philosophy of Mind 101: Inquiries & Conceptual Theories of Mind

In this part of the Philosophy of Mind series, this essay will dive into the fields of physical reductionism of mind and take one step more into the discussions of corporeality and workings of mind. Previously on the 101 series, Philosophy of Mind, the Cartesian dualist approach is elaborated on and criticized. Also, a physical reductionist understanding of mind which is the behaviourist approach is described and reflected on with a critical approach. Setting off from an understanding of mental and physical properties reflecting different substances, the Cartesian dualist approach infers the mind and the body as different substances of the person. This approach represents the divergence on the inquiry on philosophy of mind as whether the mind is a physical entity with properties of its own kind, or it is a different kind of entity. Materialist or physicalist approaches such as behaviourism take the position of mind being a physical entity and try to discover cognitive properties of mind and its workings. While these approaches result in developments in the understanding of mental processes and their relation to the environment, this kind of reduction also has reactions such as functionalism. If the divergence of the thought on mind and body is taken as the spectrum of thought, the reaction of functionalism could be taken as a reaction that converges towards the substantial distinction of the mind and the body. Different from the dualist approach, functionalism does not regard the mind as something distinct from corporeality. However, it considers the mind as a different kind of being from mere physicality. It describes the mind not as the brain, not as its neural interactions, but it describes mind as the entity that consists of its functions. At first glance, the question of what the function of the mind is, seems to be so obvious as it is thinking. Functionalism states that mind is a kind that is itself a whole consisting of its workings and properties. The essay is going to describe, elaborate and put forth a critique of these understandings of functionalism, and physical reductionist approaches of identity theory of mind and behaviourism, and try to answer these questions.

Anonymous. (2019). Puzzle of Mind. [Digital Art].
Fig. 1: Anonymous. (2019). Puzzle of Mind. [Digital Art].

Functionalism describes an understanding of mind such that the mental substance is the functionality of the mind, and what satisfies this condition can be counted as a holder of a mind, which is described as the functional kind of mind. Thinking of the function in this context as the mathematical functions could help to comprehend the functional understanding of the different kinds and the mind itself. Mathematical functions are sets of numbers that represent the values that each number corresponds to in the given space. In this analogy, the domain set, which is the signifier of the incoming values, represents the information that comes from the environment. And the set of range, signifying the values that the function takes, is the outcomes of the mental processes such as reactions or behaviour. Despite seeming similar to the behaviourist approach, functionalism differs in calling what the mind is in this picture. According to functionalism, mind is the function itself. It is neither identical to the body nor an ideal entity. It is the set of the incomes and outcomes that constitutes the function itself. Functionalism gives way to an approach like computationalism, on which this series is going to focus in later chapters, that describes mind as a function type like a computer. This approach is severely affected by the invention of the Turing machine and the first computers. As people invented machines that could make difficult computations that take very long time if humans tried to make them, the thought that humanity cognitively could be the machines that think in the human function that computes the reactions created as outcomes of the senses or what they perceive.

Triff. (2022). Closeup of a CT scan with brain. Medical, science and education mri brain background. Magnetic resonance imaging. [Film].
Fig. 2: Triff. (2022). Closeup of a CT scan with brain. Medical, science and education mri brain background. Magnetic resonance imaging. [Film].

To remind briefly, behaviourism is the approach that takes mind as the whole of behavioural reactions rooted in the history of the individual that emanate reflexively to the environmental changes. On the other hand, there is another approach that functionalism reacts to. It is the identity theory of mind. The identity theory of mind inquires whether the mental processes can be categorized into general types, so that the relation of the mind and the behaviour can be taken to light. Hence, these approaches refer to the mind as the characteristics or personality of the individual that is formed through its historicity and biological qualifications. Hence, the brain states of the person are identified as their minds. As criticism to these approaches, it is indicated that these kinds of approaches fall short on explaining the subjective experiences of a person. These experiences are called 'qualia' by the thinkers. Qualia describes the experiences of the phenomenal kind. For instance, the experiences like having pleasure, feeling of pain, or feeling happy could be considered under the umbrella of the term qualia (Kripke, 1981). Hence, the critics bring forth the actuality of mental processes of cognition to emphasize on the active quality of having a mind rather than mental processes being merely passive phenomenon that comes to existence automatically (Ryle, 2022). In this sense, the inquiry of mind moves forward to merely being about the thinking properties to the cognitive properties. Hence, the concept of mind rather than being the accumulation of historical reflexive behaviour, gains a rather organic property of being an indicator, or projector of the sets of cognition and behaviour.

Anonymous. Mind as a function, Fourier Series Visual Representation. [Digital Art].
Fig. 3: Anonymous. Mind as a function, Fourier Series Visual Representation. [Digital Art].

Mind, with this description, fits to the definition of a function. Mental processes are the functions they represent; sensation being the set of domain and behaviour being the range of the function (Marr, 1982). Different from behaviourism or identity theory of mind, being a function enables one to recognize the metaphysical properties of the mind. Thus, the functionalism emerges as a criticism of mere physicality of the mental properties. It is an endeavour of including the abstract properties of mind to the mere physical definition of the mind. This inclusion of abstract properties reflects a drift towards a metaphysical understanding of mind to the point of inclusion of qualia and a description of the mental processes as the denominator of their function. Therefore, the mind takes on the definition as the actor of all the cognitive properties, the process of thinking, feeling, sensing and qualia together as a function with input and output. Depending on the allegories in the intention of describing what the function is, the functionalist approach diverges into the typological categories such as taking the mind as a computing machine, a whole consisting of psychological processes, or a theoretical entity. These approaches are criticized through referring to the linguistic approach of the functionalism as connecting the sensations and the mind to be a whole system (Block, 1972). This critical approach takes the endeavour of the functionalism as bringing together distinct phenomena employing semantics and putting them under the same category to refer to them as mind which does not signify the very phenomenon itself. Also, other criticisms towards the functionalism approach to the subject from a similar point of view. Mainly, the critics put forth that mental properties and properties of sensation or qualia should be distinguished and kept apart not to be converged in the concept of mind. Then again, there is a concept that recalls all of these phenomena together which is cognition. Accordingly, the main criticism seems to be towards the understanding of the concepts of mind and cognition should not be confused (Putnam, 1967).

Functionalism also objects the mind being merely consisting of concrete personalities that are determined by the history of the person. Accordingly, the mind must include another property that defines its kind. Hence, the function of mind consists of cognition processes, sensation, perception, and also what is in between these processes as the mental processes. For the functionalist understanding, the function of the mind is defined as directed towards behaviour through the inputs of behaviour and cognition, but it has the process of inspection and introspection in the middle of each process. To conclude, functionalism brings forth the understanding of mind as a function which is a definition of a kind that describes itself. This definition endeavours to take the mind as the whole function that encompasses cognition, sensation, behaviour, and the mental process itself.


Block, N. (2007). Consciousness, Function, and Representation, Volume 1: Collected Papers (A Bradford Book) (Illustrated). MIT Press.

Block, N. J., & Fodor, J. A. (1972). What psychological states are not. The Philosophical Review, 81(2), 159-181.

Descartes, R., & Moriarty, M. (2008, July 6). Meditations on First Philosophy: with Selections from the Objections and Replies (Oxford World’s Classics) (1st ed.). Oxford University Press.

Heil, J. (2019, September 17). Philosophy of Mind: A Contemporary Introduction (Routledge Contemporary Introductions to Philosophy) (4th ed.). Routledge.

Kripke, S. (1981). Naming and Necessity (1st ed.). Wiley-Blackwell.

Marr, D. (1982). Vision: A computational investigation into the human representation and processing of visual information. San Francisco, CA: W.H. Freeman.

Putnam, Hilary. (1963). "Brains and behavior." Analytical philosophy, second series.

Putnam, Hilary. (1967). "Psychological Predicates". In Art, Mind, and Religion, W.H. Capitan and D.D. Merrill (eds.), pp. 37–48. (Later published as "The Nature of Mental States" in Putnam (1975a).

Ryle, G. (2022). The Concept of Mind (Senior Series.) by Gilbert Ryle (2-May-1905) Paperback. Barnes & Noble Books.

Visual Sources

Cover Image: Redding, Anah. (2022). Inquiry of Mind. [Digital Art]. Retrieved From:

Fig. 1: Anonymous. (2019). Puzzle of Mind. [Digital Art]. Retrieved From:

Fig. 2: Triff. (2022). Closeup of a CT scan with brain. Medical, science and education mri brain background. Magnetic resonance imaging. [Film]. Retrieved From:

Fig. 3: Anonymous. Mind as a function, Fourier Series Visual Representation. [Digital Art]. Retrieved From:

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Övünç Koşar

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