Did Fodor know about Sellars?

It is sometimes noticed that Wilfrid Sellars’s work in the 1950s is the origin of functional role semantics, contains the language of thought hypothesis, and has a lot in common with functionalism generally. So, it is natural to speculate the Hilary Putnam and Jerry Fodor, when they formulated functionalism in the 1960s, were influenced by Sellars. For instance, Dennett says that Putnam’s functionalism was influenced by Sellars’s work.

Putnam certainly knew of Sellars’s “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind” (1956), which was heavily discussed at the time. But there is no evidence that he knew any other work by Sellars, or even that Sellars’s work had a large influence on Putnam’s functionalism.

As to Fodor, I know of no evidence that Fodor knew anything about Sellars’s work. Fodor told me he doesn’t remember knowing Sellars’s work at the time.

I have discussed the evidence I could find about this in my “Functionalism, Computationalism, and Mental Contents” (in Canadian J. Phil.)

More recently, Bill Lycan told me he thought Fodor must have known of Sellars’s work, because Fodor and Chihara, “Operationalism and Ordinary Language” (1965) uses Sellars to criticize Wittgenstein. Unfortunately, upon checking, I was unable to find any references to Sellars in the paper by Fodor and Chihara.

Does anyone know of more evidence bearing on whether Putnam or Fodor knew about Sellars’s functionalism in the 1960s?

One comment

  1. Ramón Ponce Testino

    Well, maybe I just can refer to the same Dennett you indicate (The Intentional Stance, 1987; ch. 10), in which he does express the same kind of irony towards the supposed unacquaintance of Sellars’ functional taxonomies by Fodor. Dennett also indicates in the text some differences between both (and Putnam, as a third) but says also on the relation between Fodor procedimental semantics and Sellars: [My translation, the book is in spanish:] “Fodor (1975) doesn’t quote Sellars but in his 1981’s book [RePresentations] there’s a reference about him: ‘I discover, very lately, that Sellars (1956) once proposed an explanation in some aspects similar to this. Sellars’ work seems to be remarkably prescient to the light of (what i consider to be) the methodological presuppositions of contemporary cognitive psychology’ (pp. 325-6)” (Dennett, 1987; ch 10, note 4).

Comments are closed.

Back to Top