Connectionism and compositionality: Why Fodor and Pylyshyn were wrong

Philosophical Psychology 6 (3):305-319 (1993)
This paper offers both a theoretical and an experimental perspective on the relationship between connectionist and Classical (symbol-processing) models. Firstly, a serious flaw in Fodor and Pylyshyn’s argument against connectionism is pointed out: if, in fact, a part of their argument is valid, then it establishes a conclusion quite different from that which they intend, a conclusion which is demonstrably false. The source of this flaw is traced to an underestimation of the differences between localist and distributed representation. It has been claimed that distributed representations cannot support systematic operations, or that if they can, then they will be mere implementations of traditional ideas. This paper presents experimental evidence against this conclusion: distributed representations can be used to support direct structure-sensitive operations, in a man- ner quite unlike the Classical approach. Finally, it is argued that even if Fodor and Pylyshyn’s argument that connectionist models of compositionality must be mere implementations were correct, then this would still not be a serious argument against connectionism as a theory of mind.
Keywords Cognitivism  Compositionality  Connectionism  Epistemology  Fodor, J  Pylyshyn, Z
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DOI 10.1080/09515089308573094
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Terence E. Horgan & John L. Tienson (1987). Settling Into a New Paradigm. Southern Journal of Philosophy Supplement 26 (S1):97-113.

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