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Flirts, Victims, Connivers

Jerry Fodor, 11 September 2008

Enchantment: The Seductress in Opera 
by Jean Starobinski, translated by C. Jon Delogu.
Columbia, 262 pp., £17.50, March 2008, 978 0 231 14090 4
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... I’ve been told you can’t judge a book by its cover; and not by its subtitle either, it would seem. Jean Starobinski’s Enchantment presents itself as concerned with ‘the seductress in opera’, but not much of it actually is. It consists, rather, of a collection of occasional pieces, most of which have previously been published. They offer relatively impressionistic accounts of one or another opera ...

Bottoms Again

Jerry Fodor, 19 June 1997

The Woman and the Ape 
by Peter Høeg, translated by Barbara Haveland.
Harvill, 229 pp., £15.99, January 1997, 1 86046 254 5
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Great Apes 
by Will Self.
Bloomsbury, 404 pp., £14.99, May 1997, 0 7475 2987 6
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... Archimedes thought that he could move the world if only he could get outside of it, and the same idea inspires writers in the transcendental genre of fiction. Find some place sufficiently far out and put your fulcrum there. The leverage you achieve will lend authority to your voice. Both these books hope that higher primates will supply the required pivot ...

What are trees about?

Jerry Fodor, 24 May 2012

Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter 
by Terrence Deacon.
Norton, 602 pp., £19.99, February 2012, 978 0 393 04991 6
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... Full disclosure: after a while, I began to skip. After a while longer, I began to skip a lot. That was reprehensible, but passages like: ‘but then a teleogenic process in which one critical dynamical component is a representational process that interprets its own teleodynamic tendency extends this convoluted causal circularity one level further’ started to get me down; as Deacon quite correctly remarks, ‘life and health are fragile ...

Headaches have themselves

Jerry Fodor, 24 May 2007

Consciousness and Its Place in Nature: Does Physicalism Entail Panpsychism? 
by Galen Strawson et al.
Imprint Academic, 285 pp., £17.95, October 2006, 1 84540 059 3
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... the traditional distinction between things and their properties. Contrary to naive intuit-ion, ‘Fodor’s headache’ doesn’t express a relation between something more or less permanent (Fodor) and something more or less transient (his headache). If that’s so, however, it threatens to make nonsense of counterfactual ...

C’est mon métier

Jerry Fodor, 24 January 2013

Philosophy in an Age of Science 
by Hilary Putnam.
Harvard, 659 pp., £44.95, April 2012, 978 0 674 05013 6
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... It would take at least two workaday philosophers to keep up with Hilary Putnam. Philosophy in an Age of Science is a case in point. It’s a collection of papers, most of them previously published, devoted among lots of other things to: the philosophical interpretation of quantum mechanics, the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of language, the philosophy of mathematics, philosophical ethics (analytic and otherwise), and the debate between solipsists, phenomenologists and realists about the epistemological and metaphysical status of ‘external’ objects ...

Not Entirely Nice

Jerry Fodor, 2 November 2000

Puccini: His International Art 
by Michele Girardi, translated by Laura Basini.
Chicago, 530 pp., £41, September 2000, 0 226 29757 8
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... I have a friend who has a friend who is a composer of international stature, heavily invested in the aesthetics of difficulty. He’s also opera-addicted and likes to get to the Met whenever he comes through town. My friend remembers a phone call from his friend that went about like this: ‘Listen, they’re doing Bohème tonight. Let’s go; but please don’t tell anybody ...

Fire the press secretary

Jerry Fodor, 28 April 2011

Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind 
by Robert Kurzban.
Princeton, 274 pp., £19.95, January 2011, 978 0 691 14674 4
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... Sometimes, when I’m feeling dyspeptic, I wonder why psychologists have such a down on minds. Psychologists, of all people. In philosophy, ever since Plato, the mainstream opinion has been that the mind is the organ of thought; thinking is what the mind is for, and we act as we do because we think what we do. But psychologists, for the last hundred years or so, have mostly viewed that sort of ‘intellectualism’ as an embarrassing remnant of the Enlightenment: behaviourists say that the question of what minds are for doesn’t arise, since there aren’t any ...

Too hard for our kind of mind?

Jerry Fodor, 27 June 1991

The Problem of Consciousness 
by Colin McGinn.
Blackwell, 216 pp., £30, December 1990, 0 631 17698 5
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... Whatever, you may be wondering, became of the mind-body problem? This new collection of Colin McGinn’s philosophical papers is as good a place to find out as any I know of. Published over a period of more than a decade, and drawn together from the usual motley of largely inaccessible academic journals, these essays provide a vivid introduction to current views in the philosophy of mind and to their immediate precursors ...

Give me that juicy bit over there

Jerry Fodor, 6 October 2005

The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body 
by Steven Mithen.
Weidenfeld, 374 pp., £20, June 2005, 0 297 64317 7
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... I’m in a pout about this book; I’m conflicted. On the one hand, there are several respects in which it seems to me to be very good. Mithen knows a great deal and he writes well by the received standards of cognitive science (which are not daunting). So his book is both edifying and a pleasure to read. If you’re in the market for a summary of what’s known (a little) and what’s surmised (a lot) about the evolutionary history of our species, I’d be hard put to think of a better one to recommend ...

Encounters with Trees

Jerry Fodor, 20 April 1995

Mind and World 
by John McDowell.
Harvard, 191 pp., £19.95, October 1994, 0 674 57609 8
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... A dialectic of two different and opposed conceptions of Naturalism is working itself out in Mind and World. There’s the reductionist version – John McDowell calls it ‘bald’ Naturalism; ‘Scientism’ is another pejorative currently in fashion. And there’s the kind of naturalistic pluralism that McDowell himself is striving for. Very roughly the distinction is between the tradition that runs from Kant through the Positivists to the likes of Dewey and Quine, and the tradition that runs from Kant through the Hegelians to Wittgenstein, Rorty, Davidson and Hilary Putnam since he left MIT for Harvard ...

Cat’s Whiskers

Jerry Fodor, 30 October 1997

Points of View 
by A.W. Moore.
Oxford, 313 pp., £35, June 1997, 0 19 823692 1
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... Proust’s Swann is obsessed by what he doesn’t know about Odette. His anguish has no remedy; finding out more only adds to what he does know about her. Since Kant, lots of philosophers have suffered from a generalised and aggravated form of the same complaint. They want to know what the world is like when they aren’t thinking about it; what things are like, not from one or other point of view, but ‘in themselves ...

You can’t argue with a novel

Jerry Fodor, 4 March 2004

Radiant Cool: A Novel Theory of Consciousness 
by Dan Lloyd.
MIT, 357 pp., £16.95, December 2003, 0 262 12259 6
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... The philosophical novel is a well-established genre. Comp. Lit. 102: readings in Dostoevsky, Kafka, Mann, Gide, Sartre (and Martin Amis if time permits); little or no philosophical sophistication required. In the paradigmatic instances, the form is used to show how things look when viewed from the perspective of some or other philosophical assumptions, the philosophy itself being exemplified rather than propounded ...


Jerry Fodor: Why the brain?, 30 September 1999

... Why, why, does everyone go on so about the brain? Each Tuesday, the New York Times does its section on science, to which I am addicted. I like best the astrophysical stuff on pulsars and quasars and black holes and how old and far away everything is; there’s a pleasantly vertiginous aftertaste that sometimes lasts until ‘Arts and Entertainment’ comes out on Saturday ...

A Science of Tuesdays

Jerry Fodor, 20 July 2000

The Threefold Cord: Mind, Body and World 
by Hilary Putnam.
Columbia, 221 pp., £17.50, January 2000, 0 231 10286 0
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... Hilary Putnam’s latest book collects two series of his lectures with two chapters of ‘afterwords’. Subsidiary topics go by faster than my eye was able to follow, but the main concerns are: ‘representational’ theories of perception, and ‘identity’ theories of the mind/body relation. The treatment of the mind/body issues, though the dialectic is often intricate, is quite summary: neither philosophical claims for mind/body identity, nor the denials of such claims, are ‘intelligible ...


Jerry Fodor, 29 October 1998

Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge 
by Edward O. Wilson.
Little, Brown, 374 pp., £18.99, September 1998, 0 316 64569 9
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... Suppose God took it into his head to make another world just like ours; if one is good, why wouldn’t two be better? There’s a lot he’d have to see to; dividing the light from the dark and the seas from the dry land would hardly make a start. He’d need to conjure up another Milky Way, for example, that’s exactly counterpart to ours, and arrange the very same number of stars in the very same relative locations ...

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