Monday, July 26, 2010

LRB Review of Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini

This review by Peter Godrey-Smith in the LRB of this book, 'What Darwin Got Wrong' is very concise and revealing of the serious philosophical dispute at the heart of contemporary interpretations of Darwinism. Scroll down for Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini's brief reposte. While my own sympathies are with Fodor and P-P based only on a couple of other articles (I have not read this book under review), I nevertheless tend to agree with Godfrey-Smith when he comments:

Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini criticise the tendency to talk of selection as if it were an agent. They are right that this is often misleading, but they seem to be making a similar mistake when they treat it as something over and above the ordinary facts of life, death and reproduction. For Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini, it makes sense to ask: ‘Even if trait T causes organisms to reproduce more while T* has no effect, how can selection see that fact?’ But there is no question to ask here, nothing extra that selection might achieve or fail to do.
In other words, Godfrey-Smith is defending a more modest interpretation of the classic received view of Darwinism, a modesty that is itself conducive with Christian and other religious interpretations of evolutionary theory, it is important to note. Godfrey-Smith is one of a number of thinkers who want to take the metaphysical sting out of Darwinism - without making the more dramatic criticism of Darwinism that Fodor and P-P undertake.

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