The Man Who Hated Relativism: Geoffrey Pullum on Jerry Fodor

Geoffrey Pullum in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

FodorIt was a spring evening in 1993 at Stanford; Fred Dretske (1932–2013) was introducing the man who would deliver that year’s Immanuel Kant Lectures, a distinguished philosopher of the cognitive and linguistic sciences from Rutgers: Jerry Fodor. Dretske spoke with warm approval about the intensity of Fodor’s philosophical views. He doesn’t just disagree with doctrines like empiricism, pragmatism, relativism, and holism, Dretske smilingly explained; he hates them.

To welcoming applause, Fodor stepped up to the podium, scowling. As he spread his papers on the lectern he muttered into the microphone: “I’d hate them a lot more if they were true.”

It was a classic deadpan ad lib, humorous yet thought-provoking, and indicative of the passion that animated all of Fodor’s philosophical writing. I remembered it clearly from two dozen years ago when his death was announced last week (he died on November 29). It was sad news. The philosophical world was a richer, more bracing, and more unpredictable place with Jerry Fodor in it.

“I hate relativism,” he once said, speaking of the then resurgent view that your truth may not be the same as my truth. “I hate relativism more than I hate anything else, excepting, maybe, fiberglass powerboats.” That’s Jerry. No other philosopher writes like that. I am so sorry that he’s gone.

More here.