Block and Kitcher vs. Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini

In case anyone is interested in the response by Block and Kitcher to Fodor’s argument against evolutionary biology:


  1. Great, thanks for the link. What historico-psychological explanation is there for Fodor’s quixotic multi-decade quest to show that what biologists do is either irrelevant or confused?

    Does philosophy of mind break down between those who failed HS biology and those who didn’t? OK, sorry low blow just a joke I don’t think Putnam failed biology.

  2. Richard, I was just about to post that!

    Also, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I agree with Fodor, but not with Eric’s statement above. I don’t think Fodor thinks that what biologists do is irrelevant, although he might say that what they say they’re doing is confused (but he thinks this about all scientists).

  3. Richard Brown

    Sorry Corey

    fwiw, I agree with what you say here and I was especially interested in the discussion towards the end (around the 50 minute mark)…what Fodor wants is something like Newton’s F=MA or the inverse square law and Sober is happy with laws that a relative to populations and environments…they ultimately both agree that evolutionary theory cannot be anything like Newtonian theory but only Jerry seems worried about it!
  4. Eric Thomson

    Re: biology is irrelevant,see Language of Thought, Intro. Or more baldly “If you want to know about the mind, study the mind –not the brain, and certainly not the genes” (Fodor in Times Literary Supplement, 16 May 2003, 1–2).

    Re: biology is confused, see this debate.

    Does Fodor discuss the evolution of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria in any detail? Seems like a good case study to determine how well his argument holds up.

    Fodor brings up data that any Freshman biology major already knows (e.g., traits tend to be correlated), and points out something evolutionary biologists already know, that this makes selectionist explanations tricky. He then proceeds to kill the baby. It seems Block and Kitcher do a pretty good job of dismantling his argument, and expressing the biologist’s perspective.

    Given his abysmal track record here, I’m pretty closed-minded toward Fodor when he says anything about biology. Why read Fodor when I can read Wimsatt or Bechtel? I guess if I were a philosopher I’d have the time to read all of them.

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