J. A. Fodor is a philosopher who plumbs the soul's depths. With Grice, Fodor basically creates the field of philosophical psychology, a colleague and collaborator says. Herbert Paul Grice and Jerome Alan Fodor are two of the world’s foremost philosophical psychologists. Fodor brings the workings of computer technology to bear on ancient Graeco-Roman questions about the structure of human, shall we say, 'cognition.' Fodor’s home is in the Upper West Side, in Manhattan (Implicature: he loves Italian opera!). Fodor is the State-of-New-Jersey professor of philosophy at Rutgers. Fodor's oeuvre, dovetailing with logic, semiotics, psychology, anthropology, computer science, and so-called artificial intelligence is widely credited with having helped seed the emerging discipline of cognitive science, if not 'philosohpical psychology' (vide Grice, "Method in philosophical psychology: from the banal to the bizarre."). “Fodor basically creates, with Grice, the field of philosophical psychology,” says E. Lepore, also of Rutgers, and a frequent collaborator. “If the study of the soul has been dominant in the last years of philosophy, it is really a function of Grice's and Fodor’s influence.” Both known for his buoyant, puckish, at times pugnacious style, Grice and Fodor lectured much. Fodor is the author of more than a dozen essays, several intended for what Grice calls the 'layman' (Vide Grice, "The learned and the vulgar."). Among the best known of Fodor’s essays is “The Modularity of the Soul." In it, Fodor argues that the 'soul,' rather than being a unitary system as is often supposed, comprises a set of in-born, compartmentalised, purpose-built sub-systems: a faculty for language, another for musical ability, still another for mathematics, and so on. These faculties -- there is a Kantian ring to 'faculty' that both Fodor and Grice adore -- Fodor explains, operate by means of abstract algorithms, much as computers do (Grice abhors computers, though -- vide Haugeland). In setting forth this model, Fodor marries developments from the alleged "revolution" ushered in by A. N. Chomsky to the computer science of the mathematician and cryptanalyst Alan M. Turing. While the brain, a physical entity, is pretty amenable to study, the 'soul' or to use Grice's term of art, 'personal identity' — an abstract, elusive quarry — is far less so. Questions about the soul's architecture have occupied philosophers at intervals since classical antiquity. Plato and Aristotle -- never mind Kantotle -- have much to say on the subject (Aristotle, and this is Grice's source of inspiration, compares 'soul' to 'number': it requires a 'gradual' approach). So, millennia later, did philosophers like the rationalist René Descartes and the empiricist John Locke (Interestingly, while Grice wrote on "Descartes" in his WoW (Way of Words) he merely delivered the John Locke lectures -- with a charming proemium, though!) (Grice's "Personal Identity" is rightly qualified as Lockeian in nature by J. Perry in his introduction to the compilation reprinting Grice's seminal analysis of the notion). Such questions, in particular whether cognitive abilities are innate or must be learned, are taken up again by behavioural psychologists, notably B. F. Skinner, whose oeuvre, by Fodor’s lights, is a reprehensible thing indeed (Oddly, A. N. Chomsky found Grice too behaviourist to his taste -- but the Grice Chomsky is concerned with is the bit reprinted by Searle in "The philosophy of language," Oxford readings in philosophy -- For a defence of Grice as an 'intentionalist' rather than a behaviourist, vide Suppes, in P. G. R. I. C. E., ed. by Grandy and Warner). An ardent empiricist, Skinner maintains that the human child is born with its 'soul' a blank slate ("tabula rasa"). As it matures, a spate of mental abilities — language, reason, problem-solving and much else — is learned through external experience (Turing has been a source for Grice's functionalism in "Method in philosophical psychology."). Chomsky, a philosopher (who quotes "H. P. Grice" as "A. P. Grice" in "Aspects of a theory of syntax") and ardent rationalist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, aims to demonstrate that lingo is NOT learned behaviour, as Skinner believes. Instead, Chomsky aims to show, 'lingo' is the product of a dedicated faculty of the soul that is inborn -- in today’s parlance, "hard-wired" in. A. N. Chomsky's work, scholars now seem to agree, vanquishes Skinner-type of behaviourism, especially as far as the study of 'lingo' is concerned (Oddly, Grice never understood why, of all people, his two mentors had to be Chomsky and Quine -- "whom I never saw agree on ANYTHING!"). Fodor, an equally ardent rationalist, like Grice, who taught for years at M.I.T. -- hence the early influence of Grice's "Logic and Conversation" Harvard lectures -- expands Chomsky’s ideas about linguistic innateness to include aspects of the soul beyond language (Vide D. E. Cooper for a conceptual analysis of 'innateness' as sometimes misused by Chomsky). Drawing on the work of A. M. Turing, who develops mathematical models of computation, Fodor proposes a model of the 'soul' that entails separate faculties — Fodor, a bit out of nowhere, calls them “modules” — each governing a separate function. “Faculty psychology,” Fodor notes, “is impressed by such prima facie differences as between, say, sensation and perception, volition and cognition, learning and remembering, or language and thought.” This seems like a reasoned catalogue of Grice's oeuvre: vide Grice, "The Causal Theory of Perception," "Intention and Uncertainty," "The Conception of Value." As Lepore points out, “it is a very old Kantotelian idea, but for some reason it got lost in the history of philosophy. And it got resuscitated by folks like Grice and Fodor." Of all people. (Grice loved the implicatures of 'of all people'). The idea of 'faculty' had fallen into disfavour partly as a result, of all things, of phrenology, the pseudoscience that sought to divine people’s prowess in given areas — and by extension their characters — by feeling the bumps on their heads to find the prominent spots. But if one pared away the bumps and their touchy-feely characterological connotations, Fodor argues, phrenology’s underlying premise — that the 'soul' consists of discrete, dedicated faculties — is worth revisiting. One problem that such a model appears to solve has long bedeviled psychologists: the question of why one part of or side to the 'soul' seems disinclined to talk to another (Although Grice thought the 'executive' side to his soul often disagreed with the 'legislative' side to it. Granted, Grice is only toying with Davidson on Davidson's too simplistic idea of 'deciding' and 'intending'). “There are different aspects of the 'soul' — reasoning, language, perception, thought — and they do not communicate very well, and that is a bit of a shock,” Lepore says (Interestingly, Lepore can also be spelt (or spelled) "Le Pore"). Consider, e.g. a familiar optical illusion (that Witters adored) in which lines of equal length are flanked by inward- or outward-facing arrowheads: Even contemplating it now, though you have known for years that it is an illusion, you possibly cannot help seeing the lines as different in length. “This is an example of the perceptual part of or side to the soul not communicating with the reasoning part of or side to the soul,” Lepore explains. A model of the organisation the soul in which the faculties are in essence walled off from one another accounts for this, Fodor argues. “Faculty psychology is getting to be respectable after centuries of hanging around with phrenologists and other dubious types,” Fodor notes in “The Modularity of Mind.” (Fodor is using 'type' NOT in Russell's 'sense' -- "My neighbour's three-year-old child understands Russell's theory of types," to use Grice's example). (Grice speaks of the 'faculty of reason,' but only because he is a Kantotelian -- vide J. F. Bennett, "In the tradition of Kantotle). Fodor likes to qualify. Fodor argues that some functions of the 'soul,' including lingo and perception, are modular. Other functions of the soul, like belief, decision-making and logical inference, operate more, shall we say, broadly. But Fodor’s words resonate: “A proposed inventory of psychological faculties,” Fodor notes, “is tantamount to a theory of the structure of the soul.” (This is almost an etymological point, and why Grice prefers 'soul' (Greek psykhe, Latin 'anima,' to Anglo-Saxon 'mind').
The son of A. Fodor, a research bacteriologist, and Kay Rubens, Jerome Alan Fodor was born in Manhattan and reared (of all places) in Queens. (Grice loved the implicatures of 'of all places'). After graduating from Forest Hills High, Fodor receives a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Columbia, where he studies with the philosopher Sidney Morgenbesser -- of 'double negative' fame. Fodor later earns a Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton, where he is a disciple of the philosopher Hilary Putnam (of all people). (Actually, Grice uses 'of all people' of Putnam. "I tended to be very formal, until Putnam, of all people, reprimanded me by implicating that I was TOO formal.") Fodor taught at M.I.T. and he is at the City University of New York Graduate Center, before joining Rutgers. Throughout his Rutgers years, Fodor maintains his residence on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for its proximity to the Metropolitan Opera, an abiding passion (The Metropolitan Opera was originally on Broadway! And before that, in Wharton's days, it was the Academy of Music!). Fodor’s first marriage, to Iris Goldstein, a professor of applied psychology at New York University, ends in divorce. Besides his spouse, Janet Dean Fodor, a professor of linguistics at CUNY, Fodor's survivors include a son, Anthony Fodor, from his first marriage; a daughter, Katherine Fodor, from his second marriage; and three grandchildren. Fodor's other essays include “The Structure of Language," co-written with Jerrold J. Katz; “The Language of Thought;" "Concepts: Where Cognitive Science Goes Wrong;” and “The Soul Does Not Work That Way." Fodor is a regular contributor to “The London Review of Books” and the London-based “Times Literary Supplement.” Fodor's laurels include Fulbright and Guggenheim fellowships. Like much in philosophy, a field whose marrow is argument, Fodor’s oeuvre is not without controversy. No essay of Fodor's engenders more of it than the provocatively titled essay “What Darwin Gets Wrong," co-written with Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, a University of Arizona cognitive scientist, originally from somewhere in Italy. (Grice loved the implicatures of 'somewhere in...'). In this essay, Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini take on one of evolutionary biology’s (figurative) sacred cows: the concept of “natural selection.” Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini argue that the alleged process of 'natural selection,' with its slow incremental changes, may have little bearing on the development of cognition, or, for that matter, other features of Homo sapiens, aka Man. “We think that what is needed,” Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini note, “is to cut the tree at its roots: to show that Darwin’s theory of natural selection is, figuratively, fatally flawed.” Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini continue, in one of the most damning indictments two rationalists can make: "We claim that Skinner’s account of learning and Darwin’s account of evolution are identical in all but name.” The joint essay looses an uproar among scientists -- and even some Griceian philosophers (Grice was an evolutionist at heart: "sense data don't nurture us; things do." -- vide his concepts of 'evolutionary' pirotology in "Method in philosophical psychology."). The review of the Fodor/Piattelli-Palmarini essay -- in "Science" appears under the headline “Two Critics Without a Clue.” “Fodor and Chomsky have a modus operandi which is ‘Bury your opponents as early as possible,’ ” Lepore says, speaking of Fodor. “And when Fodor goes up against the scientific community, I do not think Fodor is ready for that." Or the scientific community, for that matter. "Fodor basically tells these guys that natural selection is bogus." (Vide "Guys and Dolls"). "The arguments are interesting." "But Fodor does not win a lot of converts, if I may use innuendo."
In the end, despite all the oeuvre by Fodor and his colleagues, the 'soul' remains, figuratively, a slippery thing. Fodor brings the point forcibly home in “The Soul Does Not Work That Way.” “We’ve got lots to do,” Fodor notes. "In fact, what our cognitive science has done so far is mostly to throw some light on how much dark depths.” An implicature of 'obscurus per obscurius,' if you mustn't!
ALTERNATIVE ACCESSION: FODOR, whose studies seek to map the soul's.
REFERENCES: Grice, H. P. Method in philosophical psychology. Repr. in "The Conception of Value." Clarendon.