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Academic Studies of Human Consciousness

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Consciousness Concepts of Jerry Fodor

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What our cognitive science has done so far is mostly to throw some light on how much dark there is.  So far, what our cognitive science has found out about the mind is mostly that we don't know how it works.

(Jerry Fodor, The Mind Doesn't Work That Way, Chapter 5)

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Jerry Fodor in 2007

 

Jerry Allan Fodor was born in 1935. He received an A.B. degree (summa cum laude) from Columbia University in 1956 and a Ph.D. (Philosophy) from Princeton University in 1960.  From 1959-1986, Professor Fodor was on the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  From 1986-1988, he was a professor at the City University of New York (CUNY).  Since 1988 he has been a Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Of all the people discussed at this web site, Professor Fodor is the only person I actually have known.  In fact, he was my teacher in the first university-level humanities course I ever took - in my freshman year at M.I.T.   Of all my freshman year teachers, Jerry Fodor is the only one whom I actually remember!  I still recall several of the works that we studied, including the Republic of Plato, History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, the play Agamemnon by Aeschylus and the Confessions of St. Augustine. He is the person initially responsible for generating my subsequent interest in the history of philosophy.

One of Dr. Fodor's most notable colleagues at Rutgers, the well-known New Mysterian philosopher Colin McGinn, has this to say about Fodor:

Around this time [1988] Rutgers was establishing itself as a major center for philosophy, making a number of senior appointments of first-rate people.  Their chief coup was hiring Jerry Fodor and attaching him to the cognitive science department as well as the philosophy department.  Fodor (who is now a close friend) is a gentle man inside a burly body, and prone to an even burlier style of arguing.  He is shy and voluble at the same time, a cat lover and a philosopher slayer.  He is a formidable polemicist burdened with a sensitive soul.  He likes to refute his opponents into an early grave in the afternoon and then quiver at the opera in the evening.  Disagreeing with Jerry on a philosophical issue, especially one dear to his heart can be a chastening experience; even when he is most wrong he seems to be winning the argument.  His quickness of mind, inventiveness, and sharp wit are not to be tangled with before your first cup of coffee in the morning.  Well adding Jerry Fodor to the faculty at Rutgers instantly put it on the map.  Fodor being by common consent the leading philosopher of mind in the world today.  I had met him in England in the seventies and spent a good amount of time with him in New York during my sabbatical there.  I found him to be the genuine article, intellectually speaking (though we do not always see eye to eye).

Quote taken from McGinn's book entitled The Making of a Philosopher, pages 189-190 (published 2002).

Fodor's personal philosophy is perhaps best described as a kind of psychological nativism closely allied to the linguistic nativism of Noam Chomsky (Fodor's long-time colleague at M.I.T.) and Turing's Computational Theory of Mind (CTM).  Perhaps his most important works are:  The Language of Thought (1975) and The Modularity of Mind (1983).  Both of these books have been very influential in the area of consciousness studies.

Professor Fodor is one of the most important of our modern-day philosophers who argues that neuroscience cannot provide an explanation of the phenomenon of consciousness.  To him, only modular cognitive processes can be studied scientifically.  Fodor is also critical of the connectionist models of cognitive phenomena, arguing that they cannot account for the rationality of thought. This criticism is bolstered by Fodorís endorsement of the strict separation of psychology from neuroscience.  In Fodor's opinion, the neurological properties of the brain are irrelevant to its cognitive properties.

My discussion of Fodor's ideas at this web page is limited to a review of some of the ideas contained in one of his most recent books entitled The Mind Doesn't Work That Way:  The Scope and Limits of Computational Psychology, first published in 2000.

 

- This web page is under construction -

 

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