Chomsky on the Mind–Body Problem


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Some people say that the founding document of twentieth-century cognitive science was Chomsky’s (1959) review of Skinner’s Verbal Behavior. (Certainly it converted me.2) By any measure, Chomsky was a leading figure in the victory of cognitivism over behaviorism in psychology. In philosophy too, Chomsky led the attack against Quine’s behaviorism regarding language and language learning.3 Moreover, Chomsky’s (1957, 1965) expressly computational view of language processing was a major inspiration for Functionalism in the philosophy of mind, as founded by Hilary Putnam and Jerry Fodor.4 Thus, when Chomsky turned his attention specifically and explicitly to the mind–body problem, one might naturally have expected him to grant his endorsement to Functionalism, whether or not he were to say anything further.5 But if one had expected that, one would have been wrong. For in his writings on the mind–body problem, Chomsky has vigorously challenged several of the claims and presuppositions characteristically made by Functionalists. I shall survey some of those challenges and, as a zealous Functionalist myself, try to rebut them seriatim.
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