Asymmetric dependencies, ideal conditions, and meaning

Philosophical Psychology 9 (2):235-59 (1996)
Jerry Fodor has proposed a causal theory of meaning based on the notion of a certain asymmetric dependency between the causes of a symbol's tokens. This theory is held to be an improvement on Dennis Stampe's causal theory of meaning and Fred Dretske's information theoretic account, because it allegedly solves what Fodor calls the “disjunction problem”, and does so without recourse to the kind of optimal (ideal) conditions to which Stampe and Dretske appeal. A series of counterexamples is proposed to Fodor's account, which, it is argued, can only be met by reintroducing that same appeal to optimal conditions that he had sought to eliminate. It is then argued that Fodor's notion of asymmetric dependence is not fundamental to the explanation of why a symbol means what it does: on the contrary, the symbol's meaning what it does is explanatorily prior to the obtaining of the asymmetry, so the asymmetry cannot be used to explain the symbol's meaning. Finally, it is argued that the “disjunction problem “ as it is defined by Fodor is not a genuine problem for causal theories of meaning
Keywords Asymmetry  Causation  Epistemology  Meaning  Fodor, J
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