Linguistic Explanation and ‘Psychological Reality’

Croatian Journal of Philosophy 9 (1):3-20 (2009)
Abstract
Methodological questions concerning Chomsky’s generative approach to linguistics have been debated without consensus. The status of linguistics as psychology, the psychological reality of grammars, the character of tacit knowledge and the role of intuitions as data remain heatedly disputed today. I argue that the recalcitrance of these disputes is symptomatic of deep misunderstandings. I focus attention on Michael Devitt’s recent extended critique of Chomskyan linguistics and I suggest that his complaints are based on a failure to appreciate the special status of Chomsky’s computational formalisms found elsewhere in cognitive science. Devitt ascribes an intentional conception of representations that Chomsky repudiates and that is independently implausible. I argue that Devitt’s proposed “linguistic reality” as the proper subject matter of linguistics neglects the problems of tokens as opposed to types and he misses the force of Chomsky’s arguments against Behaviourism and nominalism. I suggest that Devitt’s case against intuitions as data misunderstands their standard role throughout perceptual psychology. Finally, of more general interest, I argue that Devitt’s position exemplifies compelling errors concerning mental representation seen throughout cognitive science and philosophy of mind
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