In his book, Strawson looks at the assumption that consciousness arises from the physical matter of the brain and comes to the startling but coherent conclusion that maybe everything has the capacity for consciousness.
Fodor explains it like so:
So, then, if everything is made of the same sort of stuff as tables and chairs (as per monism), and if at least some of the things made of that sort of stuff are conscious (there is no doubt that we are), and if there is no way of assembling stuff that isn’t conscious that produces stuff that is (there’s no emergence), it follows that the stuff that tables, chairs and the bodies of animals (and, indeed, everything else) is made of must itself be conscious. Strawson, having wrestled his angel to a draw, stands revealed as a panpsychist: basic things (protons, for example) are loci of conscious experience. You don’t find that plausible? Well, I warned you.
Fodor is always a great read (just have a look at the first paragraph of the review) and he often writes amusing and original articles.
One of his papers (and for the life of me I can’t remember which) takes the form of him explaining a philosophical argument to his aunt.
His ideas causes all sorts of controversy in cognitive science. For example, he argues that humans have a language of thought – a sort of common basic code that all thought is based on.
Artificial intelligence researchers love this approach, as you might expect, but it drives many people nuts as they object to the ideas that the mind is just an information processor and that concepts and beliefs can be independently represented in the brain.
My favourite retort is from a book by Still and Costall called ‘Against Cognitivism’ (ISBN 0745010253) who write that Fodor’s theories are
“where one tries to keep a reasonably straight face while presenting the absurd consequences of the scheme as exciting theoretical revelations”.
Have that sir!
There’s a funny tagline at the bottom of Fodor’s review relating to such criticisms which made me chuckle:
Jerry Fodor teaches philosophy and psychology at Rutgers University. Everyone wonders why he is writing still another book about the language of thought.
And if anyone knows the name of the Fodor article I can’t remember, do let me know!