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Jerry A. Fodor

Jerry A. Fodor is State of New Jersey Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University. He is the author of The Mind Doesn’t Work That Way: The Scope and Limits of Computational Psychology (MIT Press) and other books.

Titles by This Author

An Essay on the Content of Concepts

In cognitive science, conceptual content is frequently understood as the “meaning” of a mental representation. This position raises largely empirical questions about what concepts are, what form they take in mental processes, and how they connect to the world they are about. In Minds without Meaning, Jerry Fodor and Zenon Pylyshyn review some of the proposals put forward to answer these questions and find that none of them is remotely defensible.

Fodor and Pylyshyn determine that all of these proposals share a commitment to a two-factor theory of conceptual content, which holds that the content of a concept consists of its sense together with its reference. Fodor and Pylyshyn argue instead that there is no conclusive case against the possibility of a theory of concepts that takes reference as their sole semantic property. Such a theory, if correct, would provide for the naturalistic account of content that cognitive science lacks—and badly needs. Fodor and Pylyshyn offer a sketch of how this theory might be developed into an account of perceptual reference that is broadly compatible with empirical findings and with the view that the mental processes effecting perceptual reference are largely preconceptual, modular, and encapsulated.

The Scope and Limits of Computational Psychology

In this engaging book, Jerry Fodor argues against the widely held view that mental processes are largely computations, that the architecture of cognition is massively modular, and that the explanation of our innate mental structure is basically Darwinian. Although Fodor has praised the computational theory of mind as the best theory of cognition that we have got, he considers it to be only a fragment of the truth. In fact, he claims, cognitive scientists do not really know much yet about how the mind works (the book's title refers to Steve Pinker's How the Mind Works).

Fodor's primary aim is to explore the relationship among computational and modular theories of mind, nativism, and evolutionary psychology. Along the way, he explains how Chomsky's version of nativism differs from that of the widely received New Synthesis approach. He concludes that although we have no grounds to suppose that most of the mind is modular, we have no idea how nonmodular cognition could work. Thus, according to Fodor, cognitive science has hardly gotten started.

Polemical Essays on Cognitive Science and the Philosophy of Mind

In this book Jerry Fodor contrasts his views about the mind with those of a number of well-known philosophers and cognitive scientists, including John McDowell, Christopher Peacocke, Paul Churchland, Daniel Dennett, Paul Smolensky, and Richard Dawkins. Several of these essays are published here for the first time. The rest originated as book reviews in the Times Literary Supplement, the London Review of Books, or in journals of philosophy or psychology. The topics examined include cognitive architecture, the nature of concepts, and the status of Darwinism in psychology. Fodor constructs a version of the Representational Theory of Mind that blends Intentional Realism, Computational Reductionism, Nativism, and Semantic Atomism.

Mentalese and Its Semantics

Bound to be widely read and much discussed, The Elm and the Expert, written in Jerry Fodor's usual highly readable, irreverent style, provides a lively discussion of semantic issues about mental representation, with special attention to issues raised by Frege's problem, Twin cases, and the putative indeterminacy of reference. The book extends and revises a view of the relation between mind and meaning that the author has been developing since his 1975 book The Language of Thought.

There is a general consensus among philosophers that a referential semantics for mental representation cannot support a robust account of intentional explanation. Fodor has himself espoused this view in previous publications, and it is widespread (if tacit) throughout the cognitive science community. This book is largely a reconsideration of the arguments that are supposed to ground this consensus. Fodor concludes that these considerations are far less decisive than has been supposed. He offers a theory sketch in which psychological explanation is intentional, psychological processes are computational, and the semantic properties of mental representations are referential. Connections with the problem of "naturalizing" intentionality are also explored.

The four lectures in The Elm and the Expert were originally delivered in Paris in the spring of 1993 to inaugurate the Jean Nicod Lecture series. The Jean Nicod Lectures are delivered annually by a leading philosopher of mind or philosophically oriented cognitive scientist. The 1993 lectures marked the centenary of the birth of the French philosopher and logician Jean Nicod (1893-1931). The lectures are sponsored by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) as part of its effort to develop the interdisciplinary field of cognitive science in France.

Jean Nicod series

This collection of new and previously published essays reflects the major research and thought of one of today's preeminent philosophers of mind. The first seven essays are philosophical pieces that focus on mental representation and the foundations of intentionality; they are followed by four psychological essays on cognitive architecture. In his eloquent introduction, Fodor shows how the two areas are thematically united and epistemologically related, highlighting his interest in finding alternatives to holistic accounts of cognitive content.

Jerry A. Fodor is Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University and at the City University of New York Graduate Center.

The Problem of Meaning in the Philosophy of Mind

Psychosemantics explores the relation between commonsense psychological theories and problems that are central to semantics and the philosophy of language. Building on and extending Fodor's earlier work it puts folk psychology on firm theoretical ground and rebuts externalist, holist, and naturalist threats to its position

This book is included in the series Explorations in Cognitive Science, edited by Margaret A. Boden. A Bradford Book.

This study synthesizes current information from the various fields of cognitive science in support of a new and exciting theory of mind. Most psychologists study horizontal processes like memory and information flow; Fodor postulates a vertical and modular psychological organization underlying biologically coherent behaviors. This view of mental architecture is consistent with the historical tradition of faculty psychology while integrating a computational approach to mental processes. One of the most notable aspects of Fodor's work is that it articulates features not only of speculative cognitive architectures but also of current research in artificial intelligence.

Philosophical Essays on the Foundations of Cognitive Science

A collection of eleven essays dealing with methodological and empirical issues in cognitive science and in the philosophy of mind, Representations convincingly connects philosophical speculation to concrete empirical research.

One of the outstanding methodological issues dealt with is the status of functionalism considered as an alternative to behavioristic and physicalistic accounts. of mental states and properties. The other issue is the status of reductionism considered as an account of the relation between the psychological and physical sciences. The first chapters present the main lines of argument which have made functionalism the currently favored philosophical approach to ontology of the mental.

The outlines of a psychology of propositional attitudes which emerges from consideration of current developments in cognitive science are contained in the remaining essays.

Not all of these essays are re-presentations. The new introductory essay seeks to present an overview and gives some detailed proposals about the contribution that functionalism makes to the solutions of problems about intentionality. The concluding essay, also not previously published, is a sustained examination of the relation between theories about the structure of concepts and theories about how they are learned. Finally, the essay "Three cheers for propositional attitudes", a critical examination of some of D. C. Dennett's ideas, has been completely rewritten for this volume.

A Bradford Book.