The book from which these sections are excerpted is concerned with the prospects for assimilating the study of human intelligence and its products to the natural sciences through the investigation of cognitive structures, understood as systems of rules and representations that can be regarded as These mental structui′es serve as the vehicles for the exercise of various capacities. They develop in the mind on the basis of an innate endowment that permits the growth of rich and highly articulated structures along (...) an intrinsically determined course under the triggering and partially shaping effect of experience, which fixes parameters in an intricate system of predetermined form. It is argued that the mind is modular in character, with a diversity of cognitive structures, each with its specific properties arid principles. Knowledge of language, of the behavior of objects, and much else crucially involves these mental structures, and is thus not characterizable in terms of capacities, dispositions, or practical abilities, nor is it necessarily grounded in experience in the standard sense of this term. (shrink)
This book is an outstanding contribution to the philosophical study of language and mind, by one of the most influential thinkers of our time. In a series of penetrating essays, Chomsky cuts through the confusion and prejudice which has infected the study of language and mind, bringing new solutions to traditional philosophical puzzles and fresh perspectives on issues of general interest, ranging from the mind-body problem to the unification of science. Using a range of imaginative and deceptively simple linguistic analyses, (...) Chomsky defends the view that knowledge of language is internal to the human mind. He argues that a proper study of language must deal with this mental construct. According to Chomsky, therefore, human language is a 'biological object' and should be analyzed using the methodology of the sciences. His examples and analyses come together in this book to give a unique and compelling perspective on language and the mind. (shrink)
I had intended this review not specifically as a criticism of Skinner's speculations regarding language, but rather as a more general critique of behaviorist (I would now prefer to say "empiricist") speculation as to the nature of higher mental processes. My reason for discussing Skinner's book in such detail was that it was the most careful and thoroughgoing presentation of such speculations, an evaluation that I feel is still accurate. Therefore, if the conclusions I attempted to substantiate in the review (...) are correct, as I believe they are, then Skinner's work can be regarded as, in effect, a reductio ad absurdum of behaviorist assumptions. My personal view is that it is a definite merit, not a defect, of Skinner's work that it can be used for this purpose, and it was for this reason that I tried to deal with it fairly exhaustively. I do not see how his proposals can be improved upon, aside from occasional details and oversights, within the framework of the general assumptions that he accepts. I do not, in other words, see any way in which his proposals can be substantially improved within the general framework of behaviorist or neobehaviorist, or, more generally, empiricist ideas that has dominated much of modern linguistics, psychology, and philosophy. The conclusion that I hoped to establish in the review, by discussing these speculations in their most explicit and detailed form, was that the general point of view was largely mythology, and that its widespread acceptance is not the result of empirical support, persuasive reasoning, or the absence of a plausible alternative. (shrink)
A central goal of modern generative grammar has been to discover invariant properties of human languages that reflect “the innate schematism of mind that is applied to the data of experience” and that “might reasonably be attributed to the organism itself as its contribution to the task of the acquisition of knowledge” (Chomsky, 1971). Candidates for such invariances include the structure dependence of grammatical rules, and in particular, certain constraints on question formation. Various “poverty of stimulus” (POS) arguments suggest that (...) these invariances reflect an innate human endowment, as opposed to common experience: Such experience warrants selection of the grammars acquired only if humans assume, a priori, that selectable grammars respect substantive constraints. Recently, several researchers have tried to rebut these POS arguments. In response, we illustrate why POS arguments remain an important source of support for appeal to a priori structure-dependent constraints on the grammars that humans naturally acquire. (shrink)
Biolinguistic inquiry investigates the human language faculty as an internal biological property. This article traces the development of biolinguistics from its early philosophical origins through its reformulation during the cognitive revolution of the 1950s and outlines my views on where the biolinguistic enterprise stands today. The growth of language in the individual, it is suggested, depends on (i) genetic factors, (ii) experience, and (iii) principles that are not specific to the faculty of language. The best current explanation of how language (...) is recursively generated is through Merge, an operation that takes objects already constructed, and reconstructs a new object from them, generating a 'language of thought', perhaps in a manner close to optimal (relying on principles of category (iii)), with externalization (hence communication) a secondary process. The concluding section of the article offers several objectives for future research in the field. (shrink)
The most interesting feature of the debate over the Iraq crisis is that it never took place. True, many words flowed, and there was dispute about how to proceed. But discussion kept within rigid bounds that excluded the obvious answer: the U.S. and UK should act in accord with their laws and treaty obligations.
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