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Setting Asymmetric Dependence Straight


Fodor’s asymmetric-dependence theory of content is probably the best known and most developed causal or informational theory of mental content. Many writers have attempted to provide counterexamples to Fodor’s theory. In this paper, I offer a more fundamental critique.

I begin by attacking Fodor’s view of the dialectical situation. Fodor’s theory is cast in terms of laws covering the occurrence of an individual thinker’s mental symbols. I show that, contrary to Fodor’s view, we cannot restrict consideration to hypothetical cases in which his conditions for content are satisfied, but must consider whether the relevant laws exhibit the specified asymmetric-dependence relations in actual cases.

My central argument is that the laws that the theory requires do not in fact exhibit the appropriate asymmetric-dependence relations. I show that, in general, part of the mechanism for the crucial, supposedly content-determining law for a mental symbol is not shared by the mechanisms for the other laws covering the occurrence of the same mental symbol. As a result, the former law can be eliminated (by eliminating the non-overlapping part of the mechanism) without eliminating the latter laws. The latter laws do not asymmetrically depend on the former law.

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