Carruther’s Review

I just read a rather silly review of my book Inborn Knowledge by Peter Carruthers. Was he even trying to get the point? I make it a policy not to reply to reviews, especially silly ones, but there is a point I would like to correct because it concerns a friend of mine: Jerry Fodor. Carruthers bizarrely interprets my observation that major twentieth century philosophers have not been much concerned with questions of innateness as some sort of tacit suggestion that Fodor is not a major philosopher. I certainly think he is, and he has written on innateness; but that does not contradict the fact that Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, Moore, Carnap, Kripke, Quine, Davidson, et al had little or nothing to say on the subject compared to earlier philosophers. The rest of the review is at the same level, I’m afraid.

10 responses to “Carruther’s Review”

  1. Rick Padua says:

    With respect, imo (also taking into account Carruthers’ fair assessment of hard-wired deep structuration in Chomskyan linguistics) the stone nativist case does rather need to wrestle this sort of argument to the mat and firmly pin it thereupon for a count of three:

    “What we do know, however, is that it is far too simple to state the problem as one of understanding how our ideas could be coded in our genes. In part this is because no one any longer thinks that *anything* is coded directly in our genes. Rather, development results from complex cascading interactions between genes and their environments. … Even supposing that the structure of our perceptual systems and basic learning mechanisms were coded in our genes, it would not follow that our ideas are coded-for likewise. Rather, they result from interactions between learning mechanisms and the perceptual environment and hence will, in part, depend on the structure of that environment.”

    Carruthers doesn’t mention epigenetics by nane (as a counter to among other things Dawkins-Dennett memetics-style reductionism) but it’s always good to keep in mind Franz Boas’ iconic 1911 study of Lower East Side intergenerational immigrant populations, which, without at all supporting Lamarckism, in time helped drive a stake at least partially through the heart of Social Darwinism. Only connect!

  2. David Gordon says:

    I don’t have the text of your autobiography at hand, but don’t you say in it that you regard Fodor as the leading contemporary philosopher of mind?

  3. Indeed I do. So Carruthers seems to be blowing smoke here.

  4. Steve says:

    Carruthers quotes you as saying “None of the central figures of twentieth-century philosophy had anything much to say about the question [of innateness].” Isn’t it reasonable to infer from this that you don’t take Fodor to be one of the central figures of twentieth-century philosophy? I imagine that this is what Carruthers intended to disagree with.

    • Well, that might be one possible interpretation, but I think it’s obvious from the context that I am thinking of the formative thinkers in analytical philosophy in the early part of the century. I could easily have said “Nearly all of the central figures…”. It was a comparison between recent philosophy compared to ancient and modern philosophy. The point isn’t even about central figures: it is just that before Chomsky there was hardly any discussion of innateness by philosophers, despite its prominence in earlier philosophers.

  5. Ken says:

    “Philosopher Peter Carruthers is another [philosopher in addition to Descartes and R.G. Frey] who claims that animals may lack consciousness. He argues that all animal behavior may be nonconscious and that pain ‘may help to control behavior without being felt by the conscious subject.'” (Gary Francione, Introduction to Animal Rights, p. 106)

    This point alone seems to show that Carruthers lacks both intelligence and humanity. So I would hardly take seriously any critique he has to offer of your book, no less anybody else’s book.

    • That does seem to indicate a singular lack of judgment.

      • Rick Padua says:

        Carruthers says far more damning stuff in the same paper (“Brute Experience”) alluded to by Francione. Pretty vile stuff actually. But unless one can meaningfully and specifically connect (1.) his attitude toward animal abuse to (2.) his critique of Colin’s argument favoring nativism one’s simply making a high-school-level ad hom attack. (Like does the fact that Eliot was a textbook WASP antisemite mean The Hollow Men and The Waste Land weren’t 20th century cultural artifacts of major importance, deserving of appreciation and preservation question mark and so forth and so on I mean please we’re supposed to be adults here.)

        • Rick Padua says:

          Here’s “Brute Experience”:

          It’s worth noting that at the bottom of the very first page (505) Carruthers disavows the most objectionable ideas contained in his paper, which was originally published in 1989 and reprinted at least twice in the 00s. So the author of the Notre Dame review of Colin’s book is not the moral pariah we’ve recently been made aware of but instead a conceivably decent person maybe even with an animal companion or two for whom he feels compassion and respect. Sometimes people change. Not nearly often enough but sometimes.

        • Fair enough but sometimes a lack of judgment in one area correlates with a lack of judgment in another. Of course, one would need to engage with his “arguments” in the review–which it is my policy not to do (lo these many years).

Leave a Reply to Colin McGinn Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *