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Cognition, Systematicity and Nomic Necessity

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In their provocative 1988 paper, Fodor and Pylyshyn issued a formidable challenge to connectionists, i.e. to provide an non-classical explanation of the empirical phenomenon of systematicity in cognitive agents. Since the appearance of F&P’s challenge, a number of connectionist systems have emerged which prima facie meet this challenge. However, Fodor and McLaughlin (1990) advance an argument, based upon a general principle of nomological necessity, to show that one of these systems (Smolensky’s) could not satisfy the Fodor-Pylyshyn challenge. Yet, if Fodor and McLaughlin’s analysis is correct, it is doubtful whether any existing connectionist system would fare better than Smolensky’s. In the view of Fodor and McLaughlin, humans and classical architectures display systematicity as a matter of nomological necessity (necessity by virtue of natural law), but connectionist architectures do not. However, I argue that the Fodor-Pylyshyn-McLaughlin appeal to nomological necessity is untenable. There is a sense in which neither clasical nor connectionist architectures possess nomological (or ‘nomic’) necessity. However, the sense in which classical architectures do possess nomic necessity applies equally well to at least some connectionist architectures. Representational constituents can have causal efficacy within both classical and connectionist architectures.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: School of Computing Science, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B.C., V5A 1S6, Canada

Publication date: June 1, 1997


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