[Humanist] 22.693 invitation to comment: Harnad on Fodor on Darwin
Humanist Discussion Group
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Apr 14 07:44:37 CEST 2009
Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 693.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
Date: Mon, 13 Apr 2009 15:32:35 +0100
From: Stevan Harnad <harnad at ecs.soton.ac.uk>
Subject: On Fodor on Darwin on Evolution: Invitation to Comment
I've written a summary and critique of Jerry Fodor's critique of Darwin's
principle of Natural Selection and posted it on CogPrints:
I've also launched a discussion Forum at Philpapers and invite discussion
(If you are not yet registered to Philpapers, it would be a good idea
to register as this site is now on the way to becoming an important one
for serious scholarly discussion of philosophical topics.)
On Fodor on Darwin on Evolution
I would like to invite discussion on my paper, On Fodor on Darwin
On Evolution, which is a critique of Jerry Fodor's Hugues Leblanc
Lectures at UQAM on "What Darwin Got Wrong" (Fodor, forthcoming;
Fodor & Piatelli-Palmarini, forthcoming).
Fodor argues that Darwin was wrong about "natural selection" because
(1) it is only a tautology rather than a scientific law that can
support counterfactuals ("If X had happened, Y would have happened")
and because (2) only minds can select. Hence Darwin's analogy with
"artificial selection" by animal breeders was misleading, and
evolutionary explanation is nothing but post-hoc historical narrative.
I argue that Darwin was right on all counts. Until Darwin's
"tautology," it had been believed that either (a) a god had created
all organisms as they are, or (b) organisms had always been as they
are. Darwin revealed instead that (c) organisms have heritable traits
that evolved across time through random variation, with survival and
reproduction in (changing) environments determining (mindlessly) which
variants were successfully transmitted to the next generation. This
not only provided the (true) alternative (c), but also the methodology
for investigating which traits had been adaptive, how and why; it
also led to the discovery of the genetic mechanism of the encoding,
variation and evolution of heritable traits.
Fodor also draws erroneous conclusions from the analogy between
Darwinian evolution and Skinnerian reinforcement learning. Fodor's
skepticism about both evolution and learning may be motivated by an
overgeneralization of Chomsky's "poverty of the stimulus argument"
-- from the origin of Universal Grammar (UG) to the origin of the
"concepts" underlying word meaning, which, Fodor thinks, must be
"endogenous," rather than evolved or learned.
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