Lot 2: The language of thought revisited [Book Review]

Philosophical Psychology 22 (4):525 – 529 (2009)
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Abstract

It has been over thirty years since the publication of Jerry Fodor’s landmark book The Language of Thought (LOT 1). In LOT 2: The Language of Thought Revisited, Fodor provides an update on his thoughts concerning a range of topics that have been the focus of his work in the intervening decades. The Representational Theory of Mind (RTM), the central thesis of LOT 1, remains intact in LOT 2: mental states are relations between organisms and syntactically-structured mental representations, and mental processes are computations defined over such representations. The differences between LOT 1 and LOT 2 are mostly differences of focus. Whereas LOT 1 had a number of targets—e.g. reductionism, behaviorism, empiricism, and operationalism—LOT 2 identifies “pragmatism” as the main enemy of the “Cartesian” kind of mentalism Fodor favors (pp. 11-12). Moreover, unlike LOT 1, a main aim of LOT 2 is to defend a theory of concepts that is atomistic and referentialist: lexical concepts lack structure, and their meaning is determined by their relation to the world and not by their relations to other concepts (pp. 16-20). In addition to new discussions of concepts and content, LOT 2 treats us to Fodor’s latest thoughts on compositionality, computationalism, nativism, nonconceptual content, and the causal theory of reference. Although those familiar with Fodor’s work over the last thirty years will find its main conclusions unsurprising, LOT 2 is nevertheless an exciting, breezily written book that’s full of stimulating arguments and (in standard Fodor style) immensely interesting digressions. In the Introduction, Fodor bundles together a number of distinct doctrines under “pragmatism”—e.g., that “knowing how is the paradigm cognitive state and it is prior to knowing that in the order of intentional explanation” (p. 10), and that “the distinctive function of the mind is guiding action” (p. 13). But it’s clear by Chapter 2 that his main target is “concept pragmatism,” according to which concepts are individuated by their inferential properties. Fodor’s “Cartesianism,” in contrast, has it that none of the epistemic properties of concepts are constitutive..

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Bradley Rives
Indiana University of Pennsylvania

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