[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

Dear all,

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.)

Best wishes,

Stevan Harnad

     On Fodor on Darwin on Evolution

     Stevan Harnad

     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.

More information about the Humanist mailing list