Ned Block (NYU) and Philip Kitcher (Columbia) have written a judicious and utterly devastating assessment in the Boston Review of Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini's new book on natural selection. Unlike Thomas Nagel's recent embarrassment, the Fodor and Piettelli-Palmarini book is not predicated simply on sheer lazy ignorance of the relevant science, but on a purely philosophical argument about the notion of "selection for" in evolutionary theory. Alas, as Block and Kitcher show, it's a confused argument. The concluding paragraph of their essay (but, really, read the whole thing, it's a tour de force):
We admire the work that both Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini have produced over many decades. We regret that two such distinguished authors have decided to publish a book so cavalier in its treatment of a serious science, so full of apparently scholarly discussions that rest on mistakes and confusions—and so predictably ripe for making mischief.
Kudos to Block and Kitcher for discharging the moral responsibilities of public intellectuals in exemplary fashion.
(Addendum: A couple of readers pointed out some time ago that there was another letter from Nagel to the TLS about his scandalous recommendation of the book by the Discovery [sic] Institute shill in which he made the astonishing admission that, "Like any layman who reads books on science [ed.--the book was published by the religion imprint of Harper Collins] for the general reader, I have to take the presentation of the data largely on trust" adding that "the book deserves a review from someone with the relevant scientific credentials." Given this admission that he was incompetent to evaluate the book, why did he recommend it in such a high-profile forum?)
UPDATE: One reader, a friend of Fodor's (so perhaps extra sensitive), misunderstood the title of the post, which means only that, in my judgment, Block & Kitcher finished off Fodor's critique of natural selection. As longtime readers of the blog know, I have long been a fan of Fodor's work, especially his critical skills.