This article was last modified on November 26, 2006.


Jerry Fodor Versus John Searle

In December 2003, I was taking a cognitive science class with Professor Gilbert Null at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. A question to be presented on our final exam, and given to us in advance, was to discuss the differences between the theories of Jerry Fodor and John Searle, both well-known personalities in the cognitive science world. Knowing both men were still alive and still professors, I found it would be much simpler to ask them directly than to sift through pages and pages of hard-to-follow tomes.

Jerry Fodor was kind enough to respond almost immediately. John Searle, as of this writing three years later, never has. So for your educational convenience, I offer Fodor’s answer, and perhaps Searle’s if he ever decides to return the request.

From Jerry Fodor

“Okay. The major thing we agree on is “intentional realism”; i.e. people have and act out of beliefs and desires. Only behaviorists, instrumentalists and the like could suppose otherwise.

“The major disagreements: I think there is a syntactic / computational interlevel between intentional psychology and neuropsychology, and that mental processes (thought in particular) are to be explained at that level. As far as I can tell, Searle (like Ryle and Wittgenstein, by the way) doesn’t have a theory of mental processes, doesn’t want one, and isn’t likely to get one.

“I don’t believe the “connection thesis” that intentionality requires consciousness. I think this issue is largely empirical, and that the evidence is that the two are very largely dissociated. As far as I know, Searle has no argument for the connection thesis; he just finds it appealing.

“Finally (closely connected with the preceding paragraph), I think it’s reasonable to hope for a naturalistic (perhaps causal) theory of semantic / intentionality relations (reference, aboutness and the like). I guess Searle thinks that intentionality is somehow an intrinsic property of certain kinds of brain states, and is not to be further explained. This, in turn, suggests likely disagreements about the “unity of science” program in general, and the relation between psychological and neurological theories in particular.

“Also, John likes dogs and I like cats. I hope that helps.”

Also try another article under Philosophical
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

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