Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Continue this, and fix it, later.
Brian Leiter
BL: I love literature, and love the study of literature - indeed, I was almost an “English” major in college. One problem with a lot of American English Departments in the 1980s was that they stopped teaching literature, and became the repositories for bad philosophy, bad history, bad social science! Rosenberg’s position is a bracing one, and a useful challenge to lazy anti-naturalist tendencies in a lot of Anglophone philosophy, but it does seem to me to be based ultimately on armchair philosophy of the kind naturalists are supposed to decry. Physicalism is not a scientific result - Carnap thought it would be, but we know it isn’t the case that everything that is causally explicable is explicable in terms of causal relata that are physical. So my view on this issue is certainly not Rosenberg’s, as much as I admire his work. In any case, it seems to me that American literature departments have recovered quite a bit from the intellectual disaster of the 1980s, a happy development. And if I may paraphrase Nietzsche, life without literature would be a mistake!
"...but we know it isn’t the case that everything that is causally explicable is explicable in terms of causal relata that are physical."

Asking Leiter, he sends me to Jerry Fodor
“Special Sciences and the Disunity of Science as a Working Hypothesis", Synthese 28 (1974), pp. 77-115. It’s also reprinted as the introduction to his Language of Thought, 1975.
Impatient I ended up with a collection of essays: In Critical Condition, which includes "Special Sciences: Still Autonomous after All These Years (A Reply to Jaegwon Kim...)", which drives me almost to distraction. It reads like a series of arguments from Zeno's paradoxes, meant to separate language from the world so as to manipulate it according to formal principles but otherwise without restraint, and then return it to the world as law, in this case stating: "You can't get there from here."

[repeat: Darwin-Leiter/Fodor/Lewontin from 2010.]

July 2010, Fodor responds to a review in the LRB
The theory of natural selection claims that the explanation as to why a particular kind of creature evolves a particular trait in a particular ecology, is that for that kind of creature in that situation, having the trait is a cause of fitness. But then it can’t also claim that ‘in the sense that matters’ ‘a trait was selected for’ means that it is a cause of reproductive success. If it did mean that, the theory of natural selection would reduce to a trait’s being a cause of reproductive success explains its being a cause of reproductive success, which explains nothing (and isn’t true).
This is just silly.

Found while reading, a good response by Steven Weinberg: Reducionism Redux [also: PDF]
Linked recently in another context

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