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The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

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Thursday, May 25, 2017

A SUGGESTION

I trust everyone will agre that Noam Chomsky does not need me either to explain his views or to defend them.  My suggestion is that anyone whose curiosity was provoked by my post should first watch the video and then discuss what Chomsky said, not what I said.  The comments posted here make it clear that my effort to summarize what Chomsky said was unsuccessful, so I am going to bow out.  It is not as though he has been shy about setting forth his views!  :)

5 comments:

Chris said...

But....! I would rather spend my time watching your Freud and Kant lectures, than devote 2 hours to linguistics ;)

s. wallerstein said...

the Brian McGee interview with Chomsky is a good introduction to his thought.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3LqUA7W9wfg


Howard said...

There are sociologists out there who question Chomsky's assumption of how open ended the generation of linguistic meaning really is because semantics is constrained by social context.
Surely Chomsky is aware about these alternative approaches and has a response of some kind

Daniel Langlois said...

I'm a big fan of Chomsky's syntax work, and I say that as somebody who has a degree in psychology and in computer science. It's interesting stuff, but I'll give a quote from you that does not make him sound very interesting at all:

'Chomsky’s third observation – with which I was not already familiar and which struck me as extraordinarily powerful – is that if we take from the theory of evolution the basic insight that the human capacity for language must be grounded in some genetic mutation, then it is obvious that this mutation occurred in the genome of a single individual, who was thereby equipped with the capacity for language acquisition and use. But in order for this mutation to survive, it must have conferred some competitive advantage to the individual. And since he or she would be the only human being in the world with the capacity for language, the fundamental adaptive advantage of the mutation must have derived from the new ability to think, NOT from an improved ability to communicate!! BECAUSE WITH WHOM WOULD HE OR SHE COMMUNICATE?'

Daniel Langlois said...

There is much informal and abstract maundering to be had (much philosophy to be had) about hy language really is not a communication system, or such. I think we can agree that Chomsky studies language from a biological perspective, and that when he says that it is not designed for communication, he is talking about evolutionary design. I have emphasized the notions of 'informal' and 'abstract', and for example if I say that I'm considering communication as a driving force in the evolution of this particular talent, then I think this is stating things rather abstractly but also at the same time rather informally.

At a greater level of detail, there is something to this -- Chomsky mentions several examples of fundamental features of language that you wouldn’t wish for in a well-designed communication system. For example, the silence of gaps is a systematic feature of language but is known to lead to parsing problems. The silence of gaps, is positions in which a moved element is interpreted but not pronounced. Chomsky also mentions scope reconstruction, and example here are like 'Everybody didn’t like the movie', and we might think here, that it would seem easy to include a basic design feature to avoid these ambiguities.

But I would make the point before we try diving into this, that Chomsky is speaking in a context where most evolutionary scenarios for language see it as a communication system etc. Within this context, one may pursue the thought that language has a core combination of features that makes it unique among communication systems and that raise deep problems for the view that it evolved for communication. It is relevant, that there are extant models of communication systems, and that maybe they cannot account for language evolution, maybe..this is all kind of much debated and a work in progress cutting edge stuff.

You can propose your own alternative view, according to which language first evolved as whatever, but Chomsky makes more sense if you consider what language evolution has been mainly approached through. As language is routinely used in human communication, the natural assumption is that the function of language is communication. As a consequence, theories of language evolution have centered on scenarios that try to explain the kinds of selection pressures that could have triggered the emergence of etc..

Note that there are animal communication systems that are not 'language'. I wouldn't cite Chomsky for having gotten the last word in some contentious debate, like he has finally assessed the notion for all time, that language is a communication system in the strong sense..

My goal would be to convey, as a very preliminary matter, that there are interesting issues here. I'm not sure that even Chomsky is actually much more ambitious than that with much of this stuff..