Skip to main content


Holism: A Shopper's Guide

Jerry Fodor, Ernest Lepore

ISBN: 978-0-631-18193-4 April 1992 Wiley-Blackwell 292 Pages


The main question addressed in this book is whether individuation of the contents of thoughts and linguistic expressions is inherently holistic. The authors consider arguments that are alleged to show that the meaning of a scientific hypothesis depends on the entire theory that entails it, or that the content of a concept depends on the entire belief system of which it is part. If these arguments are sound then it would follow that the meanings of words, sentences, hypotheses, predictions, discourses, dialogs, texts, thoughts and the like are merely derivative. The implications of holism about meaning for other philosophical issues (intentional explanation, translation, Realism, skepticism, etc.) will also be explored. Authors discussed include Quine, Davidson, Lewis, Bennett, Block, Field, Churchland, and others. The book is intended for all those interested in language, mind, metaphysics or epistemology.

1. Introduction: A Geography of The Issues.

2. Confirmation Holism and Meaning Holism: W. V. O. Quine.

3. Meaning Holism and Radical Interpretation: Donald Davidson.

4. Meaning Holism and The Inextricability Thesis: David Lewis.

5. Meaning Holism and The Normativity of Intentional Ascription (and A Little More about Davidson): D. C. Dennett.

6. Meaning Holism and Conceptual Role Semantics: Ned Block.

7. State Space Semantics (and A Brief Conclusion): Paul Churchland.

"The informality and freshness of style is like a conversation with the reader - the authors bring a new and much needed rigour to their critique of holism." Oliver Sacks

"Fodor and Lepore's discussion of holism is unrivalled in argumentative density and philosophical energy, and it will certainly lead to a storm of new activity." Mind

* A witty, controversial and partisan book on a subject of central importance to philosophers, psychologists, linguists and cognitive scientists.
* It covers all the main positions held by key people in the field.
* Fodor is probably the most influential figure in current cognitive science.