Concepts: Where Cognitive Science Went Wrong

Concepts: Where Cognitive Science Went Wrong

Concepts: Where Cognitive Science Went Wrong

Concepts: Where Cognitive Science Went Wrong


Oxford Cognitive Science Series General Editors: Martin Davies, Wilde Reader in Mental Philosophy, University of Oxford, UK, James Higginbotham, Professor of General Linguistics, University of Oxford, UK, John O'Keefe, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College, London, UK, Christopher Peacocke, Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy, University of Oxford, UK, and Kim Plunkett, University Lecturer in Psychology, University of Oxford, UK The Oxford Cognitive Science series is a forum for the best contemporary work in this flourishing field, where various disciplines--cognitive psychology, philosophy, linguistics, cognitive neuroscience, and computational theory--join forces in the investigation of thought, awareness, understanding, and associated workings of the mind. Each book will represent an original contribution to its subject, but will be accessible beyond the ranks of specialists, so as to reach a broad interdisciplinary readership. The series will be carefully shaped and steered by the general editors, with the aim of representing the most important developments in the field and bringing together its constituent disciplines. About this book The renowned philosopher Jerry Fodor, who has been a leading figure in the study of the mind for more than twenty years, presents a strikingly original theory of the basic constituents of thought. He suggests that the heart of a cognitive science is its theory of concepts, and that cognitive scientists have gone badly wrong in many areas because their assumptions about concepts have been seriously mistaken. Fodor argues compellingly for an atomistic theory of concepts, deals out witty and pugnacious demolitions of the rival theories that have prevailed in recent years, and suggests that future work on human cognition should build upon new foundations. This lively, conversational, and surprisingly accessible book is the first volume in the Oxford Cognitive Science Series, where the best original work in this field will be presented to a broad readership. Concepts will fascinate anyone interested in contemporary work on mind and language. Cognitive science will never be the same again.


Actually, I'm a little worried about the subtitle. There is already a big revisionist literature about what's wrong with cognitive science, devoted to throwing out, along with the baby: the bath, the bath towel, the bathtub, the bathroom, many innocent bystanders, and large sections of Lower Manhattan. the diagnoses that these books offer differ quite a lot among themselves, and there's a real worry that the patient may die of overprescription. What's wrong with cognitive science is that, strictly speaking, there aren't any mental states at all. Or, strictly speaking, there aren't any mental states except the conscious ones. Or, strictly speaking, intentionality is in the eye of the beholder. Or of the interpreter. Or of the translator. Or it's just a stance. Or it's a coarse grid over a neural network. Or whatever.

I find those sorts of views simply not credible, and I have no desire to add to their ranks. On the very large issues, this book is entirely committed to the traditional cognitive science program: higher organisms act out of the content of their mental states. These mental states are representational; indeed, they are relations to mental representations. the scientific goal in psychology is therefore to understand what mental representations are and to make explicit the causal laws and processes that subsume them. Nothing about this has changed much, really, since Descartes.

So this is an internal critique; it's what Auntie likes to call 'constructive' criticism. On the other hand, given the traditional broad consensus about the goals and architecture of theories of cognition, I do think something has gone badly wrong about how the program has been carried out. For reasons I'll try to make clear, the heart of a cognitive science is its theory of concepts. and I think that the theory of concepts that cognitive science has classically assumed is in a certain way seriously mistaken. Unlike practically everybody else who works or has worked in this tradition, I think that the theory of concepts ought to be atomistic. It's a little lonely, being out here all by oneself; but it does give room to manoeuvre. This book is about why the theory of concepts ought to be atomistic. and about how its not having been atomistic has made trouble all over cognitive science. and about what the psychology, the ontology, and the semantics of an atomistic theory of concepts might be like.

The discussion is grouped into three sections. Chapters 1 and 2 are . . .

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