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Q: Fodor of Chomsky ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: Fodor of Chomsky
Category: Reference, Education and News > Homework Help
Asked by: mitts-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 30 Nov 2003 12:21 PST
Expires: 30 Dec 2003 12:21 PST
Question ID: 281963
Who is responsible for coining the term "Epistemic boundedness"  and
what is the name of the book or piece of writing where this idea is
first presented?  Is it Jerry Fodor or Noam Chomsky?

Request for Question Clarification by pafalafa-ga on 30 Nov 2003 14:12 PST
Chomsky refers to Fodor as the source of the concept, but I can't say
for sure where Fodor's first use of the term may have been.  If you'd
like, I can post the Chomsky cite as an answer to your question.  Let
me know.


Clarification of Question by mitts-ga on 30 Nov 2003 15:23 PST
please post the Chomsy site. Thanks
Subject: Re: Fodor of Chomsky
Answered By: pafalafa-ga on 30 Nov 2003 16:21 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello, and thanks for a very intriguing question.  

All references that I saw to the origin of "epistemic boundedness"
attribute the concept to Fodor.  In all likelihood, it first appeared
in print in Fodor's 1983 book "The Modularity of the Mind".

I ran a search for the phrase "epistemic boundedness" (with the quote
marks included) at the Questia research site:

which turned up the following reference by Chomsky where, in a
footnote, he attributes the concept to Fodor:

Knowledge of Language: Its Nature, Origin, and Use
Noam Chomsky
Praeger  New York 1986

Footnote 10 on page 13 reads as follows, with epistemic boundedness
mentioned in the next to last sentence:

10.  See Fodor ( 1983). But it is too narrow to regard the "language
module" as an input system in Fodor's sense, if only because it is
used in speaking and thought. We might consider supplementing this
picture by adding an "output system," but plainly this must be linked
to the input system; we do not expect a person to speak only English
and understand only Japanese. That is, the input and output systems
must each access a fixed system of knowledge. The latter, however, is
a central system which has essential problems of modularity, a fact
that brings the entire picture into question. Furthermore, even
regarded as an input system, the language module does not appear to
have the property of rapidity of access that Fodor discusses, as
indicated by (8)-(14). Note also that even if Fodor is right in
believing that there is a sharp distinction between modules in his
sense and "the rest," which is holistic in several respects, it does
not follow that the residue is unstructured. In fact, this seems
highly unlikely, if only because of the "epistemic boundedness" that
he notes. Many other questions arise concerning Fodor's very
intriguing discussion of these issues, which I will not pursue here.
The work Chomsky was referencing was:

Fodor J. ( 1983). The Modularity of Mind ( Cambridge: MIT Press). 

and here is the paragraph that contained the original footnote number:

It seems that there is little hope in accounting for our knowledge in
terms of such ideas as analogy, induction, association, reliable
procedures, good reasons, and justification in any generally useful
sense, or in terms of "generalized learning mechanisms" (if such
exist). And it seems that we should follow normal usage in
distinguishing clearly between knowledge and ability to use that
knowledge. We should, so it appears, think of knowledge of language as
a certain state of the mind/ brain, a relatively stable element in
transitory mental states once it is attained; furthermore, as a state
of some distinguishable faculty of the mind--the language
faculty--with its specific properties, structure, and organization,
one "module" of the mind. 10


Questia also turned up this work which seems to reaffirm Fodor as the man:

Minds and Bodies: Philosophers and Their Ideas
Colin McGinn 
Oxford University Press  New York  1997

The reviews of my book were, as one politely says, mixed. They tended
toward the edgy and distancing. The two extremes were represented by
philosophy professors Jerry Fodor, my colleague at Rutgers, and Daniel
Dennett , author of Consciousness Explained ( Little, Brown, 1991).
Fodor sympathized with my position, though he dissented from some
applications I make of it. Dennett began his review by declaring that
he was embarrassed to be in the same profession as me, and went on to
suggest that I belong to a sinister cadre of "New Jersey Nihilists"
intent on destroying cognitive science as we know it. ("New Jersey"
because I moved from Oxford to Rutgers in 1990--though this move had
nothing to do with my views about the dark roots of consciousness.) My
fellow Garden State nihilists were said to include Chomsky, Fodor, and
Nagel--all fearfully dangerous chaps. The label lacked factual
accuracy: Chomsky was and still is at MIT, Nagel at NYU; Fodor
formulated his notion of "epistemic boundedness" while at MIT; and I
had my idea at Oxford...


Lastly, an "inside the book" search for "epistemic boundedness" (with
quotes) at (the search function is available to all who
register at Amazon):

also points to Fodor's 1983 work as the origin of the concept:

Cognitive Science and Clinical Disorders 
by Dan Stein, Jeffrey Young October 1992

--Excerpt from page 172: "...Fodor (1983), for example, uses the term
"epistemic boundedness" to underscore the idea that our epistemic
assumptions constrain ..."


I hope this is the information you need, but if anything here is not
clear, just let me know by posting a Request for Clarification, and
I'll be happy to assist you further.

mitts-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars

Subject: Re: Fodor of Chomsky
From: pafalafa-ga on 30 Nov 2003 17:24 PST
Thanks for the generous's always appreciated.

Best of luck with your work.


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