Fodor, Jerry A. (1985). Precis of The Modularity of Mind. Behavioral & Brain Sciences. Vol 8(1): 1-42.


One of the major debates about how the mind works has been about the ways in which different processes interact with each other.  For example, are linguistic processes directly influenced by information from nonlinguistic sources, like visual information? Or, how does the sentential context influence lexical access?  While it may be clear that, e.g., visual information influences linguistic choices eventually, the focus has been on whether it does so immediately.


Fodor’s “Modularity” book represents a detailed look at the idea that the mind is divided into modules, or areas of the mind that are devoted to accomplishing particular tasks, with limited input from other modules – i.e., the modules are encpauslated..  The information from these modules must eventually be combined, but under this theory, certain processes are initially encapsulated.  His main focus is the proposal that perceptual processes are encapsulated, whereas higher processes (like reasoning) are not.


Notes on reading:


This is an well-written (and entertaining) but rather dense article.  Pay attention to the links he draws to historical issues (e.g., the reaction of Cognitivism to Behaviorism), and to his proposals about cognitive architecture.  Also read the Peer Commentary by Janet Fodor, which relates Modularity to language processing.  The other peer commentaries are useful for thinking about this proposal, but not required reading.


He makes reference to classic visual illusions, like the Müller-Lyer illusion and the Ames room.  Check out these links if you aren’t familiar with them and are curious:



Reading Questions


  1. In Fodor’s fairy tale, how does the Handsome Cognitivist use the Poverty of the Stimulus Argument, and what is he using it to argue for?
  2. Fodor distinguishes between the “cognitive penetrability of perception” and the “continuity of perception with cognition”.  What is the difference, and which one follows from the fact that the organism contributes inferential information to processes?
  3. On page 5, Fodor lists some criteria for evidence against the modularity thesis.  Can you think of a hypothetical experiment or type of evidence that would meet these criteria as counter-evidence?  This issue will probably take some thinking.  Take a stab at it, even if you aren’t sure – these will provide good discussion material in class.