Broad versus narrow content in the explanation of action: Fodor on Frege cases

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Abstract

A major obstacle to formulating a broad-content intentional psychology is the occurrence of "Frege cases" - cases in which a person apparently believes or desires Fa but not Fb and acts accordingly, even though "a" and "b" have the same broad content. Frege cases seem to demand narrow-content distinctions to explain actions by the contents of beliefs and desires. Jerry Fodor (The elm and the expert: Mentalese and its semantics, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994) argues that an explanatorily adequate broad-content psychology is nonetheless possible because Frege cases rarely occur in intentional-explanatory contexts, and they are not systematically linked to intentional laws in a way that demands intentional explanation. Thus, he claims, behaviors associated with Frege cases can be considered ceteris-paribus exceptions to broad-content intentional laws without significantly decreasing the explanatory power of intentional psychology. I argue that Frege cases are plentiful and systematically linked to intentional laws in a way that requires intentional explanation, specifically in the explanation of why certain actions are not performed. Consequently, Frege-case behaviors cannot be construed as ceteris-paribus exceptions to intentional laws without significantly eroding the explanatory power of intentional psychology and reducing the rationality of the agent. Fodor thus fails to save broad-content psychology from the prima facie objections against it based on Frege cases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-133
Number of pages15
JournalPhilosophical Psychology
Volume15
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Philosophy

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