Publication 4845

Fodor J. (1980) Methodological solipsism considered as a research strategy in cognitive psychology. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3: 63–110. Fulltext at
The paper explores the distinction between two doctrines, both of which inform theory construction in much of modern cognitive psychology: the representational theory of mind and the computational theory of mind. According to the former, propositional attitudes are to be construed as relations that organisms bear to mental representations. According to the latter, mental processes have access only to formal (nonsemantic) properties of the mental representations over which they are defined. The following claims are defended: (1) That the traditional dispute between “rational” and “naturalistic” psychology is plausibly viewed as an argument about the status of the computational theory of mind. Rational psychologists accept a formality condition on the specification of mental processes; naturalists do not. (2) That to accept the formality condition is to endorse a version of methodological solipsism. (3) That the acceptance of some such condition is warranted, at least for that part of psychology which concerns itself with theories of the mental causation of behavior. This is because: (4) such theories require nontransparent taxonomies of mental states; and (5) nontransparent taxonomies individuate mental states without reference to their semantic properties. Equivalently, (6) nontransparent taxonomies respect the way that the organism represents the object of its propositional attitudes to itself, and it is this representation which functions in the causation of behavior. The final section of the paper considers the prospect for a naturalistic psychology: one which defines its generalizations over relations between mental representations and their environmental causes, thus seeking to account for the semantic properties of propositional attitudes. Two related arguments are proposed, both leading to the conclusion that no such research strategy is likely to prove fruitful.


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