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Philosopher Jerry Fodor (1935-2017) Updated

J. Fodor
Jerry Fodor, 1935-2017

Jerry Fodor was one of the Altenberg 16* and author of What Darwin Got Wrong (2010).

Correction: Jerry Fodor was interviewed in the book “The Altenberg 16” by Suzan Mazur  (Chapter 3)  but is not one of the 16 scientists that met at Altenberg in 2008.

Pos-Darwinista writes to say that Fodor’s page at Rutgers University doesn’t mention What Darwin Got Wrong, co-authored with Massimo Piattelli Palmarini. There is, however, a link to the pdf of a paper, “Against Darwinism,” identified as forthcoming:

This started out to be a paper about why I am so down on Evolutionary Psychology (EP), a topic I’ve addressed in print before.  But, as I went along, it began to seem that really the paper was about what happens when you try to integrate Darwinism with an intentional theory like propositional attitude psychology. And then, still further on, it struck me that what the paper was really really about wasn’t the tension between Darwinism and theories that are intentional (with a `t’), but the tension between Darwinism and theories that are intensional (with an `s`). The latter is more worrying since Darwinism, or anyhow adaptationism, is itself committed to intensionally individuated processes like `selection for.’ So the claim turned out to be that there is something seriously wrong with adaptationism per se. Having gotten that far, I could have rewritten this as straightforwardly a paper about adaptationism… More.

Fodor makes clear that he knew his views would not be popular among the tenured.

According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

Jerry Fodor is one of the principal philosophers of mind of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. In addition to having exerted an enormous influence on virtually every portion of the philosophy of mind literature since 1960, Fodor’s work has had a significant impact on the development of the cognitive sciences. In the 1960s, along with Hilary Putnam, Noam Chomsky, and others, he put forward influential criticisms of the behaviorism that dominated much philosophy and psychology at the time. Since then, Fodor has articulated and defended an alternative, realist conception of intentional states and their content that he argues vindicates the core elements of folk psychology within a physicalist framework.

About What Darwin Got Wrong (2010),  Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy says,

Fodor says, the appeal to adaptive complexity does not warrant the claim that our minds are the product of natural selection. In his latest book co-authored with Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, What Darwin Got Wrong (2010), Fodor argues that selectional explanations in general are both decreasingly of interest in biology and, on further reflection, actually incoherent. Perhaps needless to say, this view has occasioned considerable controversy; for examples see Sober (forthcoming), Block and Kitcher (2010), and Godfrey-Smith (2010).

From Daily Nous:

Fodor received his undergraduate degree from Columbia University in 1956, and his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University in 1960. His first professorship was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he taught for 27 years. He then held a position at City University of New York for two years, before moving onto Rutgers University in 1988, where he was State of New Jersey Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science. He retired in 2016. More.

The comments are worth reading. He appears to have been a great teacher. Requiem aeternam dona ei.

See also: Others are talking about Jerry Fodor’s What Darwin Got Wrong. We liked it too, especially his no-nonsense confrontations with the sort of people who claim that they are not “that kind of Darwinist” any more, but really are.

I read his book "The Mind Doesn't Work That Way" and it is an excellent takedown of computational explanations of how the mind works, which are either connectionist (e.g. neural networks) or modular (databases). Neither approach nor a combination thereof is a coherent explanation of how we observe the mind operate. He concludes his book saying that despite the failings of computational theory to explain the workings of the mind, it's the only thing we've got. So, the "physicalist" part of his theory of intentional states is pretty much "we've got nothing else" which is not very strong. EricMH

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