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Bertrand Russell and Jerry Fodor’s Philosophical Perspectives Essay


Great thinkers, through their writings, communicate political and social positions that challenge people to reevaluate the existing conventional beliefs and values. Their perspectives are influenced by the prevailing social and political conditions, or personal beliefs, which they communicate through their writings. This essay analyzes the ideas of two great thinkers, Bertrand Russell and Jerry Fodor, as presented in their works, Why I Am Not a Christian, and How the Mind Works respectively.

Based on the analysis of their contributions to social change, creative processes, and solutions as presented in these writings, the essay concludes that each thinker’s works had a great impact on the social, political, and religious issues he addressed. Fodor criticizes behaviorism as an explanation of mental states and offers an alternative view, the computational theory. In contrast, Russell criticizes religious doctrines of Christ’s wisdom and God’s existence. He advocates for logical realism as a solution to the problems caused by religion.

Introduction

Great thinkers address important issues in human history from different philosophical perspectives. They hypothesize an idea, gather relevant evidence to support it, and clarify how the evidence affirms their argument. They offer new insights that revolutionize thinking and bring about change in the society. This essay analyzes the works of two great thinkers: Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian and Jerry Fodor’s How the Mind Works. It will examine the issues addressed in the writings and evaluate the solutions offered.

Russel’s and Fodor’s Contributions to the Society

Bertrand Russell, a British philosopher and mathematician, in his works, sought to unravel the mystery surrounding God’s existence and the foundations of Christianity. Through his ideas, Russell made great contributions to the development of analytic philosophy and logic. Using symbolic logic, Russell articulated his viewpoint that philosophy can be grounded in a new framework (Russell, 1998). In his view, symbolic logic explained issues, but did not expand or give definite descriptions of universal concepts and assumptions underlying logic. Definite descriptions can only be found in science and thus, Russell’s perspective was purely a metaphysical one. Russell, through his writings, also made great contributions to religion, education, and politics.

On his part, Jerry Fodor, a 20th century philosopher, made great contributions in the fields of cognition and psychology. Fodor, in the 1960s, advanced a different view to the behaviorism theory, which many philosophers and psychologists used to explain cognition (Ludwig & Schneider, 2008). He postulated an alternative view that focused on realistic mental processes, which, in his view, explained the different mental representations. Fodor put forward many theories of the mind that are widely used across various disciplines today. In his essay, Fodor holds that a person’s mental states are the “representations of computational relations in the brain” (Fodor, 2006, p. 87). In other words, mental representations in the brain are organized like sentences in a language. Fodor also hypothesizes that the mind is structured into “modular” systems that contain information. This perspective that cognition is modular has gained popularity among psychologists.

The Thinker’s Social and Political Environments

The social and political environments influence the ideas and perspectives of famous thinkers. Their creative ideas give solutions to a common problem and aim to change people’s attitudes and perceptions. The works of the two thinkers, Russell and Fodor, were motivated by the social and political conditions of their time. Russell was born in England in 1872 to an aristocratic family; his father was the ruler of Queen Victoria (Schultz, 1992).

He began his philosophical works on the religious problems of the time in 1883 (Schultz, 1992). Initially, Russell had an interest in politics and openly expressed his views on a number of controversial issues, including women’s suffrage, the Vietnam invasion, the killing of JF Kennedy, and the international trade laws (Schultz, 1992). However, his earlier works were devoid of philosophical arguments. In his education, Russell pursued studies in economics and mathematics at Trinity College before studying philosophy (Schultz, 1992).

His parents held liberal opinions on political, moral, and theological topics, which largely shaped Russell’s ideas about religion and politics as he grew up. Russell was also influenced by the ideas of the 18th Century philosophers like Stuart Mill, Plato, and Darwin, which appealed to his opinion about physical laws and religion. In the writer’s opinion, Russell’s upbringing in an aristocratic family and Platonism influenced his adulthood attitudes towards religion and politics.

Jerry Fodor is a twentieth-century philosopher whose ideas on cognition have been quite influential in the field of cognition since the 1960s. Fodor studied psychology and philosophy at Columbia University and Princeton University before he began his teaching career at Rutgers University (Ludwig & Schneider, 2008). Fodor was influenced by the ideas of behaviorism and Mentalism that dominated cognitive sciences at the time. In fact, in his earlier works, Fodor sought to disprove behaviorism and advance Mentalism as an alternative by pointing out the limitations of behaviorism. Thus, in the writer’s view, Fodor’s ideas developed from the mentalist conception of psychology that dominated cognitive sciences in his time.

The Thinker’s Philosophical Perspectives

Russell, in his works, sought for eternal truths about religion. Russell’s unfruitful search for eternal truths left him disappointed and critical of the Christian beliefs. In his popular essay, Why I am Not a Christian, he laments at the way Christianity has become destructive by deterring rational thinking (Ludwig & Schneider, 2008). He bases his argument on two premises: the disputed existence of a Supreme Being, God, and the fallibility of the belief that Christ is “the wisest and best man” who ever lived (Ludwig & Schneider, 2008). Based on these premises, Russell concludes that he is not a Christian because Christian beliefs are untrue and destructive. Thus, in his works, Russell advocates for liberal thinking as opposed to the orthodox and conservative approach encapsulated in Christianity.

On his part, Fodor, in all his works, advocates for physicalism, a philosophical view that states that “the properties and particulars of the universe are either identical to or determined by physical laws” (Fodor, 2006). In this regard, Fodor refutes the mind-soul duality perspective, which is founded on the psychological properties of the mind. In most of his work, Fodor seeks to prove that Mentalism offers a better explanation of cognition than behaviorism or dualism does. Thus, Fodor, through his criticism of behaviorism, contributed to the development of Mentalism in cognitive sciences.

The Implementation of the Philosopher’s Ideas

Russell believed that the religions of the world are founded on false premises. He also believed that religion inhibits rational thinking, which makes it harmful to social development. In his own words, “the church inflicts, by its insistence upon what it chooses to call morality, inflicts upon all sorts of people undeserved and unnecessary suffering” (Russell, 1998, Para. 17). He calls on everyone to “look at the world squarely, its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness” (Para. 18) in order to bring about progress and social justice. An organization, the Bertrand Russell Foundation, implements some of his ideas about social justice.

Fodor’s ideas on functionalism and intentional realism have had great impacts on debates about non-reductive physicalism (Ludwig & Schneider, 2008). In his essay, How the Mind Works, Fodor does not offer any clear explanation as to how the mind works, but supports the computational theory of the mind as a rationalist approach for explaining cognition in the human mind. He notes that people are sensitive to many physical properties of the world, including language and abstract ideas like democracy. In this regard, the human mind, which has the capability to respond to these properties, is an ‘intentional system’. His views on intentional realism and functionalism are widely used in explaining the psychology of the mind.

Critique of their Ideas

Russell, in Why I am not a Christian, bases his ideas on two precepts: (1) the skepticisms around God’s existence and (2) the disputable wisdom of Christ (Russell, 1998). However, in this essay, Russell does not provide theoretical evidence to refute or support his claims. He cites a number of Bible verses, but does not place them in their correct context or elaborate on how they serve as evidence that God does not exist. Thus, his failure to substantiate his ideas in this essay affects the validity of his arguments.

On his part, Fodor holds the view that the mind comprises of modular systems that make up the mental states. However, many evolutionary psychologists argue that the “cognitive systems are non-modular” as they comprise of an assembly of units with each unit performing a particular function (Ludwig & Schneider, 2008). Moreover, Fodor’s conclusion, in his essay, that no one knows how the mind works affects the validity of his theory.

Conclusion

It is evident that political and social environments motivate great thinkers to develop ideas that bring about societal change. In this essay, the analysis of the works of two great thinkers, Fodor and Russell, has revealed that their creative processes were, in part, influenced by their social conditions. Nevertheless, their ideas have had great impacts on the respective issues they addressed.

References

Russell, R. (1998). . Web.

Fodor, J. (2006). How the Mind Works: What we still don’t know. Daedalus, 135(30), 86-95. Web.

Ludwig, K. & Schneider, S. (2008) Fodor’s Challenge to the Classical Computational Theory of Mind. Mind & Language, 23(9), 123-143. Web.

Schultz, B. (1992). Bertrand Russell in Ethics and Politics. Ethics, 102(3), 594-634. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2020, June 2). Bertrand Russell and Jerry Fodor's Philosophical Perspectives. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/bertrand-russell-and-jerry-fodors-philosophical-perspectives/

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"Bertrand Russell and Jerry Fodor's Philosophical Perspectives." IvyPanda, 2 June 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/bertrand-russell-and-jerry-fodors-philosophical-perspectives/.

1. IvyPanda. "Bertrand Russell and Jerry Fodor's Philosophical Perspectives." June 2, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/bertrand-russell-and-jerry-fodors-philosophical-perspectives/.


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IvyPanda. "Bertrand Russell and Jerry Fodor's Philosophical Perspectives." June 2, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/bertrand-russell-and-jerry-fodors-philosophical-perspectives/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Bertrand Russell and Jerry Fodor's Philosophical Perspectives." June 2, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/bertrand-russell-and-jerry-fodors-philosophical-perspectives/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Bertrand Russell and Jerry Fodor's Philosophical Perspectives'. 2 June.

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