Jerry Fodor  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Jerry Alan Fodor (April 22, 1935 – November 29, 2017) was an American philosopher and cognitive scientist. He held the position of State of New Jersey Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, at Rutgers University and was the author of many works in the fields of philosophy of mind and cognitive science, in which he laid the groundwork for the modularity of mind and the language of thought hypotheses, among other ideas. He was known for his provocative and sometimes polemical style of argumentation and as "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."

Fodor argued that mental states, such as beliefs and desires, are relations between individuals and mental representations. He maintained that these representations can only be correctly explained in terms of a language of thought (LOT) in the mind. Furthermore, this language of thought itself is an actually existing thing that is codified in the brain and not just a useful explanatory tool. Fodor adhered to a species of functionalism, maintaining that thinking and other mental processes consist primarily of computations operating on the syntax of the representations that make up the language of thought.

For Fodor, significant parts of the mind, such as perceptual and linguistic processes, are structured in terms of modules, or "organs", which he defines by their causal and functional roles. These modules are relatively independent of each other and of the "central processing" part of the mind, which has a more global and less "domain specific" character. Fodor suggests that the character of these modules permits the possibility of causal relations with external objects. This, in turn, makes it possible for mental states to have contents that are about things in the world. The central processing part, on the other hand, takes care of the logical relations between the various contents and inputs and outputs.

Although Fodor originally rejected the idea that mental states must have a causal, externally determined aspect, in his later years he devoted much of his writing and study to the philosophy of language because of this problem of the meaning and reference of mental contents. His contributions in this area include the so-called asymmetric causal theory of reference and his many arguments against semantic holism. Fodor strongly opposed reductive accounts of the mind. He argued that mental states are multiply realizable and that there is a hierarchy of explanatory levels in science such that the generalizations and laws of a higher-level theory of psychology or linguistics, for example, cannot be captured by the low-level explanations of the behavior of neurons and synapses. He also emerged as a prominent critic of what he characterized as the ill-grounded Darwinian and neo-Darwinian theories of natural selection.

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Jerry Fodor" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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