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The ELM and the Expert: Mentalese and Its Semantics (Jean Nicod Lectures) Paperback – 28 Aug 1995


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Written in a highly readable, irreverent style, The Elm and the Expert provides a lively discussion of semantic issues about mental representation, with special attention to issues raised by Frege's problem, Twin cases, and the putative indeterminacy of reference.

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Those of you who enjoy messing around in sailboats-or, what I find is cheaper and dryer, reading about other people messing around in sailboats-will be aware of a literary genre in which the author describes, sometimes in lurid detail, one or other of the things that can go wrong at sea, and then offers soothing advice about how to cope with the kind of crisis he has conjured up. Read the first page
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
It's great if you're into that kind of thing... 30 Jun. 2004
By J. Wisdom - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Fodor's task in EAE is to try and harmonize the following three beliefs: (1) Psychological laws exist and they necessarily include reference to entities like beliefs, desires, and the like; (2) The semantic content of such entities is determined by the causal relations that exist between intentional states and whatever object in the external world reliably causes them; and (3) Mental processes are computational processes; i.e., our minds are just very complicated symbol manipulators. The problem that arises for whoever holds all three of these views is that, apparently, (3) requires that intentional states be fixed by their *internal* relations, and (2) requires that intentional states (or at least their content anyway) be individuated by *external* relations. Oops. So, Fodor tries to find a way in which mental content can be externally fixed and reliably computationally implemented.
He claims that the coinstantiation of broad content with its computational implementers is both reliable and explicable, but metaphysically contingent. The book is divided into four lectures. In the first lecture, Fodor outlines the above problem and his proposal. In the second lecture, Fodor argues that it is plausible to believe that a mechanism exists which keeps broad mental content stuck to its computational implementers. He further claims that one who holds a broad view of content ought to treat Putnam and Frege cases as accidents. In fact, he claims that both broad and narrow views of content must maintain that Frege cases, though common, are unsystematic and exceptional in terms of how people normally behave. Put differently, both internalist and externalist views of content must allow that people tend to recognize the relevant identities in cases that are relevant to their behavior (e.g., Smith wants to go to Chicago, Chicago is where air tedium flies to...).
Fodor devotes the third lecture to treating cases in which it is not true that concepts that carry the same information are always coextensive. Most specifically, he deals with Quine's question of why "rabbit: means "rabbit" and not "undetached proper parts of a rabbit." In the final lecture, Fodor applies his theory to epistemology Here (and only here) does the reader get a sense of why Fodor is trying to make these theories work. Basically, he thinks that eliminativism is obviously false and a serious dualism is miraculous- but Fodor doesn't believe in miracles. So, a naturalized theory of mental representation is the only way out. (On a side note, he *does* believe that minds are "hopeful monsters"- see chapters 14 and 15 of his "In Critical Condition" and also his chapter in James K. Beilby, ed., "Naturalism Defeated?")
Given my purposes in this review I won't provide arguments against Fodor's view. However, I don't buy (2) and (3) above, and thus don't need to answer the same kinds of problems Fodor does. Overall, the read-worthiness of the book is directly proportional to the degree that one: (a) is a fan of an informational semantics and a computational psychology and wants to see how they *might* be harmonized, (b) disagrees with either or both of these views but wants to see a rigorous argument for an opposing view, and (c) is generally interested in the relationship between mind and language, and has a high degree of aptitude (or at least ambition) for reading analytic philosophy. Also, depending on one's interests, different readers will derive differing degrees of benefit from any given chapter. Personally, I am very interested in the material covered in chapters one, three, and four but couldn't give a rip about the material in the third chapter.
As for the presentation itself, I thought Fodor could have done a better job of explaining the dilemma for (2) and (3) above. I'm pretty new to this particular area of the philosophy of mind, and it took me about four read-throughs and some close outlining before I really began to get what Fodor was saying. Maybe I'm not as sharp as most who will read this book, but either way, the subject material is difficult enough. Being as pedantic as possible might've helped here.
At any rate, The Elm and the Expert is a high-quality, high-level work in analytic philosophy of mind and language. It definitely isn't for everybody-not even for most philosophers, I think-but it should prove illuminating for those willing and able to give it a careful reading.
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