That is, I did not believe that it was incidental that Derrida was born and raised in Northwest Africa, but that his thought is inextricable from the cultural setting in which it was nurtured. Although Derrida offers a uniquely Sephardic Jewish perspective, his thought is certainly influenced by prominent African and Middle Eastern ways of thinking about language. He is not a Martian scientist, a figure that he commonly evokes in his studies of human language, but a human being who lives on the planet Earth.
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Against Chomskyan objectivism, I do not assert the rational thesis of the question, but pose the philosophical question of the question. Yet, even if the theorist of the innate hypothesis does not conflate all hypotheses into a general one, the fact remains that Chomsky asserts specific hypotheses regarding the innate organic structures of the mind as a priori forms that endure in time and space. Furthermore, he posits that these innate structures are indeed shared across the human species.
But, as we will explore here, those theories that he cites only posit quasi-innate hypotheses, which, as John Locke rightly points out, suggest that the innate hypothesis is a matter of philosophical doctrine, not scientific certainty. The quasi-innate idea is also a metaphysical idea because it is secretly an adventitiously innate idea, as Chomsky himself is finally compelled to acknowledge. This book seeks to show that the demand that copious empirical evidence be produced in support of any philosophy of language—including those masquerading as brain science—is already misplaced because there is no way to ever satisfy it.
But it is not the aim of philosophical inquiry to say what is new. While Chomsky has published a vast number of books and articles over the past 50 years, the dogmatic tenets of his philosophy of language have remained unaltered since the publication of his inaugural book, Cartesian Linguistics This is so because the demand for proof assumes the priority of the rational thesis.
The philosophical rejoinder to this assertion is that the question of language acquisition is an epistemological one before it becomes a scientific one. To ask how a child is able to acquire language is tantamount to asking how it is possible for the child to possess knowledge of the world of exterior objects, for, like all other objects that are external to humans, language is, first and foremost, an empirical trace of the real in the objective world of the senses. Current empiricist epistemologies of language evolved within a post-Kantian framework, one in which the British empiricist tradition, which historically preceded Immanuel Kant, had already been rethought.
Chomsky elides the fact that the Kantian a priori form is only temporal and therefore refers to nothing. That is, Kant is careful not to assign objective reality to his own a priori categories of the mind. This Kantian view is very different from that of Chomsky, who will insist that the a priori form may be construed as a spatially real entity. In effect, he transforms Kantian a priori structures into objective ones, thereby converting the a priori into a concrete thing that is secretly a metaphysical object.
But Chomsky also claims that the child must have some empirical experience of language, however minimal, to acquire language in the first place Cartesian Linguistics This is so whether the word appears to the child as a visual object upon the lens of the eye or is felt as an invisible force that reverberates within his or her ear. Children cannot become speakers of language until they are exposed to empirical stimuli that are seen, heard, felt, and so on. Chomsky states that universal grammar exists in the mind in a spatial sense, and not as an empty temporal category, because he is in search of a solid footing.
Like Descartes, Chomsky seeks a transcendental ground upon which to place his feet, and the empty and temporal forms of Kant do not provide him with the frankly logocentric—and finally theological—foundation that he seeks. I will suggest here that for Chomsky this claim is asserted in order to gain power, not knowledge.
Chomsky also argues that the validity of his linguistic analyses depends upon the strength of their explanatory power. Chomsky insists that he is a hard scientist, rather than a flaccid humanist, and that the problems he addresses are both real and enduring. But, what is perhaps most remarkable about the hard thesis is that it is also an innocent one. Yet Chomsky is also aware that his linguistic views are Machiavellian because they imply the necessity of asserting the strong thesis in the absence of founding principles in order to ground his rhetorical claims. At the same time, human beings are comparable to rats in a maze presented with an enigma that is beyond their ability to resolve.
For Chomsky, this spatial structure is there as an actual object that is extended in space and is not a mere temporal category; however, to profess a rational belief of this nature is not to be in possession of a rational truth, for belief always already implies the lack of knowledge. Universal grammar is a thing that can only be affirmed as a matter of faith. It cannot be known, not even unconsciously. Chomsky asserts that belief is a form of knowledge in order to lay claim to certainty in a Cartesian sense. In this way, he may at last stand upon the bedrock of certitude that Descartes imagined he had found, thereby dismissing all doubts and anxieties.
For the deconstructive theorist, by way of contrast, the human experience of anxiety is inextricable from the entity that we are. This is why it is fair to say that Chomsky is literally careless in his approach to the question of language acquisition. Chomsky does not want reason to be subject to the anarchistic and atheistic tribunal of philosophy.
He does not want to pose the question of why reason itself must be rendered—and to whom. Chomsky asserts that by calling the interior trace also occulted, he has rendered metaphysics irrelevant. But, even if what Chomsky calls universal grammar was truly there, it would still be somewhere rather than nowhere, and it would still be something rather than nothing. Knowledge for the Chomskyan linguist is not knowledge. It is unconscious knowledge, or belief in a thing that is unseen.
Descartes insists that the intuitive claim that the res cogitans exists provides irrefutable evidence that it was placed there by a superior power, for how else could it have gotten there? In the dialogue Meno, for instance, Plato affirms a concept of truth as correct perception, but he also preserves the pre-Socratic notion of truth as an incalculable temporal event.
Unlike Chomsky, Plato is certainly not oblivious to metaphysical questions of temporality, forgetting, and non-being or khora. In fact, they are central to his concerns. The evolutionary narrative that Chomsky recounts about the occulted trace also implies that the human head was an empty receptacle, or tabula rasa, before its metamorphosis into universal grammar.
Yet if a divine being did not insert the language ghost into the human being, and the ghost is not an external trace of the real, it is nonetheless there, and it is also autonomous. Furthermore, the ghost is always already in need of a placeless place in which to appear. In other words, the doctrine of universal grammar necessarily depends upon the doctrine of the blank slate. But, if deep and surface structures are not identical, what is it that lies in between these non-identical structures, if anything?
Yet even if this reading is correct—which is debatable—Chomsky has done little more than recuperate a concept of the innate idea that is merely quasi-innate, which means that it is secretly an adventitious idea. As Locke argued, the innate idea is finally an adventitious idea, or a subtler version of the adventitious idea.
Yet, if this is so, it is worth asking why the innate idea deserves to be called an innate idea at all, considering that it only seems to be independent of the sensory world. In fact, it remains utterly dependent upon the sensory world. What Chomsky fails to acknowledge are the ontological consequences of his own doctrine of the innate idea, which offers his readers no more than a virtually innate idea, or a subtler variety of the adventitious idea. In the end, Chomsky is compelled to acknowledge that he will never be able to prove that this cunning little ghost is actually there: he may only persuade fellow biolinguists that it exists by resorting to the hard rhetoric of the strong thesis.
The political and pedagogical implications of this limitation are far from trivial, as Chomsky himself might put it. Chomsky imagines that he is a hard scientist, who really belongs in the natural sciences; that is, for Chomsky, the hard sciences are ideologically neutral disciplines whereas humanities programs overtly indoctrinate students into accepting dominant cultural views that he regards as anti-democratic. Hence, Chomsky is compelled to acknowledge Copyright material from www.
Chomsky insists that the goal of public education in the United States is to indoctrinate students, and that those who advance within U. Chomsky is correct that current educational systems in the United States are institutions that deliberately seek to indoctrinate those who are educated within them. Because Chomsky imagines that the phenomenological hermeneutic tradition reached its apex in the thought of Wilhelm von Humboldt,16 he is unaware that many of the heirs to this tradition have long discussed key blind spots of the Enlightenment, for instance by distinguishing between prejudices that are due to over-hastiness and those that are justifiable because they produce knowledge.
Chomsky objects to current forms of education that do not allow or encourage the free use of reason, an objection that is certainly laudable; however, it remains to be asked how those within academe who wish to exercise the free use of reason may do so unless they are introduced to a body of principles that are actually spoken or inscribed by real human Copyright material from www. Chomsky rejects the notion that true education involves any form of indoctrination whatsoever, for to accept that this is so might threaten the precarious hypothesis upon which his career has been built.
Chomsky claims that to the extent to which democratic forms of pedagogy are taught as doctrines, they should be disqualified from being considered democratic. It would seem that truly democratic principles can never be articulated, only intuitively sensed. But how can we ever know what these true democratic principles are if they cannot be articulated?
Chomsky wants to affirm the traditional values of a liberal democratic pedagogy but without affirming those values as an actual cultural tradition that is already articulated by established authorities. In the U. Chomsky claims that the concept of linguistic competence is scientific and not ideological, yet his views about language are certainly taught as articulated doctrines in U. In some cases they are even disseminated in elementary schools. For instance, in the state of Copyright material from www.
The object that exists inside of the head i. Hence, the Chomskyan hypothesis of unconscious knowledge also serves identifiable purposes within educational settings in the United States, for it enables Copyright material from www. Moreover, it is clearly not the responsibility of faculty as faculty to ask what it is that the nation-state may do with the information that the linguist produces. Faculty may of course ask such questions, but only as private citizens, not as servants of the state.
The same may be said for the faculty who adopted the competency model in my own department in order to teach English and American literature. It is not then simply the case that a pedagogy of competence is irresponsible, it is rather that the other is always already imagined as a sworn member of the national body politic. If the U. I am myself an employee of the state of Washington and a recipient of federal funding in the form of Fulbright awards.
Hence, if Chomsky cannot Copyright material from www. My point is rather a deconstructive one: The sovereign state always underwrites the disinterested scholarly efforts of the rational scientist within U. This fact is as true for Chomsky as it is for every other professor in the United States. Because Chomsky privileges the epistemological vantage point of the extra-terrerestrial observer, he never asks the question of who it is that asks questions within academe.
He does not ask the question of the entity that we are, for to ask such a question undermines the ideology of competent perception. In effect, Chomsky articulates a metaphysical and occulted theory of knowledge, which he justifies on the grounds that it is efficacious. This book evaluates these contributions by historicizing them and situating them within a comparative framework. Chomsky is read within the horizon of his own national identity and historical era. In both his political and linguistic writings, Chomsky bases his rational appeals to individual rights on the assertion that human beings are everywhere the same because they possess human language, a perspective that is claimed to be self-evident to the extraterrestrial observer.
In the practical context of U.
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The ideology of competence is therefore the ideology of the housed scholar. In practical terms this means that those who find themselves with limited access to the state-supported institution will have an increasingly difficult time getting past the doorstep should the rationalist ideology that Chomsky espouses gain further traction within the university.
While this conclusion may surprise those who admire Chomsky as a champion of human rights, Copyright material from www. Adorno Admirers of Chomsky often compare his contributions to contemporary thought with those of the greatest minds of the past. This is why those who Copyright material from www. In the case of the term dialectics, this concept is linked to Platonic and Kantian thought, especially in reference to the oral-aural exchange necessary to the discovery of truth. The Socratic philosopher required the bodily presence of the man whom he loved in order to inspire him to find the truth.
However, Kantian thought is dialectical in a different sense from what is usually meant in reference to the philosophy of the ancient Greeks. What I will suggest here is that if Chomsky had adequately treated Kant at the time that he wrote Cartesian Linguistics, he would not only have gained a better understanding of the uncontroversial term dialectics, he would also have been obliged to abandon his scientific theory of universal grammar.
For Chomsky, it is as if the study of language in Germany came to a complete halt after Humboldt died in the early nineteenth century. Perhaps the most influential thinker to come out of the phenomenological hermeneutic tradition in Germany is Martin Heidegger. In many of his early writings, Heidegger performed careful studies of pre-Socratic thinkers like Parmenides, Heraclitus, and Anaximander in an effort to understand how the thinkers of classical antiquity construed notions of truth before the rise of Platonic Idealism.
After Plato, truth is linked to the matter of Logos, which is described as a fire that burns in the mind of the man who is able to correctly ascertain the hidden and true essence of all things. Unlike Aristotle, who located consciousness in the human Copyright material from www.
In Cartesian Linguistics, Chomsky evokes A. All those lacking in this generative seed are akin to eunuchs Cartesian Linguistics In Platonic terms, it is a pharamkon, or a kind of occult fluid. Not only does Plato locate the faculty of reasoning in the human brain, he also suggests that the Logos is beyond the reach of the five senses. This Ideal Word is not accessible in the realm of becoming. In Platonic terms, the Psyche and Logos dwell in the transcendent realm of Being, not the actual world of becoming.
She was unconcealed Truth itself, the disclosure of essence as incalculable event 5. As Heidegger often points out, the opposite of this pre-Socratic concept of truth is not falsity from the Latin falsum , but rather oblivion or forgetting 44— The word aletheia is related to the Greek word Lethe, the river of forgetting. This ancient Greek notion of truth undergoes a transformation in the thinking of Plato. It is Plato, Heidegger observes, who transforms the notion of truth, so that it comes to mean competence, correct perception, or ratio in its Cartesian formulation.
Heidegger observes then that truth and falsity must be thought of in relation to one another. Another way to say this is that the empirical trace is always already a trace of the real. The Greek notions of truth as aletheia or unconcealment and the false as pseudos or a concealment that unconceals were later displaced by the Latin notions of truth as veritas or the correct and falsum or the incorrect. After the Romans, the false is forever equated with the wrong use of reason. For the pre-Socratics aletheia is better construed as an event that beings in the world apprehend: it is not a matter of competent, adequate, or correct perception of objective form.
This means that there is a gap, veil, or blank space between surface and deep structure, or—in Derridean terms, Copyright material from www. Unlike Heidegger, who seeks to overturn the Western metaphysical tradition, and who attempts to break from modern notions of dialectics, Chomsky offers no alternative to dialectics, a term he claims he does not comprehend. However, Chomsky asserts that universal grammar is a real albeit abstract structure that dwells in the human mind, and he claims that spoken and written articulations of language offer competent representations of these real but empty mental phenomena.
Yet, when he is pressed to clarify his dependence upon this well-worn metaphor, Chomsky will insist that it should not be taken literally but is merely a figurative means of understanding the relation between inner and outer linguistic form. Here, as elsewhere, Chomsky oscillates between the literal and figurative meanings of his favorite tropes, sometimes asserting their scientific value and sometimes falling back upon their merely poetic value as figures. For Plato, the armillary sphere is a working model of the human mind.
At the center of this ancient device burns a ball of fire of the Logos, also described as the transcendental seed that the divine creator planted in the brain. The Logos is our rational faculty, but it also is the post-Platonic Greek Copyright material from www. Thoughts rotate around this burning ball of fire, much like the heavenly planets orbit around the sun. On the widest metal band of the armillary sphere may be found the signs of the zodiac, or constellated images of the stars that dwell, not only in the starry cosmos, but deep within the human interior.
The beautiful form in Greek metaphysics literally glows: it radiantly shines forth, allowing the philosopher to behold its true essence. Plato asserts in The Phaedrus that, while most of us can only see through a glass darkly, the philosopher understands that an essential and radiant beauty dwells within all objects. The philosopher is the rare man who sees correctly: his vision can ascertain the true essence hidden within all things. If he can penetrate into the truth of things, it is only because the radiant and constellated forms that he beholds already reside within him.
While it may be anachronistic to speak of competent perception in Plato in terms of dialectics, there is certainly a sense in which true vision in this model implies the correct subjective perception of objective form. Although zodiac constellations are not the same as computer hardware, in both cases the human brain is imagined as a kind of machine that is equipped with mental forms and that is designed for calculating the truth. This means that questions about how this calculating machine achieved its current state of complexity may be dismissed as an unscientific conundrum.
Such terms imply the existence of a designer, but Chomsky ignores the theological implications of his language. The hardware of the mind is a scientific fact, of which Chomsky is certain. The fact is a fact, but also a tautology. In the case of the latter, Chomsky insists that certain individuals are genetically endowed with superior mental constitutions enabling them to excel in ways that are essentially mysterious Chomsky on Democracy and Education Like the innate structures that he calls universal grammar, these innate aesthetic principles are embedded in our human nature.
As is true of his scientific theories of language and aesthetics, Chomsky illustrates his scientific theory of universal ethics with recourse to a metaphor in which the human brain is once again compared to a calculating machine that is designed to make competent moral decisions. While there is nothing but the promise of success at present, Chomsky remains optimistic that his theory will eventually prove tenable.
He also does not recognize the overtly theological dimensions of this metaphor, which implies the existence of a designer of the ethical machine that he believes we are. The perceiving subject beholds an objective form that is an adequate representation of a mental structure that already exists in the human interior.
Chomsky claims that he does not posit any Kantian a priori categories of thought in his linguistic writings. Perhaps as a response to his critics, Chomsky has increasingly sought to distance himself from representational linguistics, but without abandoning his theory of universal grammar. The external word mirrors the internal word. Kant observes that absolutely everything that is empirically significant is significant only insofar as it has been activated within a specific empirical setting.
Chomsky echoes Kant in denying that these mental categories are supernatural, or that they exist in any Platonic heaven. Chomsky therefore describes language acquisition as an event that happens in both time and space. Kant too insisted that his a priori categories of thought required given concrete situations to be activated, and he also insisted that their existence apart from the occasion of their activation was insignificant.
For Kant, empirical reality necessarily involves spatial and temporal relations. This means that, for a phenomenon to be a phenomenon, it must exist in both space and in time. Thus a system of concepts is activated in the listener. But, once the internal language system is activated, the importance of an external stimulus is almost insignificant. Chomsky notes that, Copyright material from www. The analytic mechanism of the language But it does not follow from this fact that one has succeeded in articulating a deductive theory of language, rather than yet another inductive one.
However, this is precisely what Chomsky claims. It is that merely labeling him so levels a theoretical distinction that he believes to be important. And yet Chomsky repeatedly asserts that innate mental structures are real but abstract forms that are lodged in the human brain. A surgeon can open up my body and hold my liver in his hand, even if he cannot perceive its metaphysical essence.
But that same surgeon is going to have a far more difficult time opening up my head and holding in his hand the abstract mental structure that Chomsky claims is as real as my liver. In fact, he would find himself in the exact same dilemma as the young Descartes, who spent a number of years dissecting human and animal brains in search of the immortal soul, which he claimed was located in the pineal gland. New Horizons — In The Architecture of Language , he similarly states that,.
It is an irrefutable proposition that abstract mental representations such as those posited by Kant and Chomsky will always escape investigation, since the empirical existence of a priori categories is necessarily predicated upon their activation in occasional contexts. For this reason, one Copyright material from www. However, if this is true, then it cannot also be true that his abstract mental objects are as real as the liver since they are, by definition, idealized abstractions, as Chomsky himself acknowledges.
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In other words, an abstract mental representation can never be objectively real in the way that Chomsky implies because it is a form without content. If this form were to acquire actual, specific, or historical content, it would no longer be a form without content, but a trace of the real, like the performed epiphenomenon that Chomsky posits as theoretically distinct from what he calls universal grammar.
Chomsky oscillates in his descriptions of universal grammar, which is sometimes described as an abstract and permanently inaccessible mental phenomenon and sometimes described as an organic entity that is as real as the liver. In other words, Chomsky seeks to keep his language about human language in place. On the one hand, he may mean that these real structures of the brain are sitting in the head, waiting for their imminent discovery by future brain scientists; on the other hand, he may mean that these abstract representations are a Copyright material from www.
My argument here echoes and reinforces the views of I. Later, Robinson wrote the first sustained, book length rejoinder to Chomskyan linguistics from the perspective of the literary scholar. Robinson observes that Chomsky confuses the literal and figurative meanings of the term universal grammar, asking how it is that Chomsky can repeatedly make the same rhetorical blunder.
Robinson does not suggest that Chomsky in any way deliberately seeks to deceive his readers, but that Chomsky seems to be unaware of what he is doing. No confusion should result from this standard usage if the distinction is kept in mind [my emphasis]. But Chomsky sets aside all questions about deep structure at the beginning of his study of the sound patterns of the English language, focusing exclusively on the surface structure for the obvious reason that only the surface structure is actually available for empirical analysis 7.
This is so, he admits, for [t]here is nothing in our account of linguistic theory to indicate that the result would be the description of a system that violates certain principles governing human language. To the extent that this is true, we have failed to formulate the principles of linguistic theory, or universal grammar, in a satisfactory manner. In particular, we have not made any formal use of the fact that the features have intrinsic content [my emphasis]. It is nonetheless revealing that he is compelled to acknowledge that his lengthy and intricate study of surface structure has revealed absolutely nothing about the existence of any deep structural essences that are hidden in the human brain.
In fact, the only thing his study has revealed is that his innate hypothesis is not verifiable, largely because it is only a hypothesis. It is rather a hypothesis that is offered by the scientist. That the realm of being is other than the realm of seeming is what inaugurated the thinking of figures like Parmenides, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
In effect, the external grammatical phenomenon is a liquid projectile. In effect, they are not accidental at all, but intentional. There is therefore a nexus between figurative and literal Copyright material from www. But how do we know that a connecting link exists, if the notion is merely a notion, rather than an observable object? In Heideggerian terms, what Chomsky calls competence is akin to Rede reason or logos and performance to Sprache or mere chatter , whereas Jameson will speak of the linguistic registers of the semantic and the syntactic The Political Unconscious — This pre-Saussurean variety of linguistic thought is called Adamic, after the biblical figure Adam, whose Copyright material from www.
This is possible because the uttered word is imagined to be a correct replica or representation of the thing named, just as it accurately replicates the inscribed word on the human interior. It was largely in response to Humboldtian and Adamic lingustic thought that Ferdinand de Saussure asserted the doctrine of the arbitrary sign, firmly rejecting the mystifying notion that words and things enjoy an inexplicable relation. This doctrine is the cornerstone of structuralist and poststructuralist thought, although Chomsky firmly rejects it: A name, let us suppose, is associated with a thing by an original stipulation, and the association is then conveyed in some manner to others.
Consider the original stipulation. These conditions involve spatiotemporal contiguity, Gestalt qualities, functions within the space of human actions. Thus it seems that there is an essential reference even to willful acts, in determining what is a nameable thing [my emphasis]. They also set him completely at odds with the Saussurean doctrine of arbitrary sign.
Another way to say this is that Chomsky asserts a garden-variety metaphysics of presence, one that builds upon traditional Platonic and Aristotelian notions of speaking. In other words, Chomsky offers a hierarchical theory of language in which writing is imagined to be a copy of speaking, which in its turn is imagined to be a copy of a word that is inscribed on the human interior.
Chomsky articulates his logos-speaking-writing metaphysics in the following terms: [E]ven if the phonetic transcription were as faithful a record of speech as one could desire, there is still some question whether such a record would be of much interest to linguists, who are primarily concerned with the structure of language rather than with the acoustics and physiology of speech.
It is because of this question that many structural linguists have felt that phonetics has very little to offer them and have therefore assigned to it a secondary, peripheral role. These problems do not arise when phonetic transcription is understood. Yet Chomsky Copyright material from www. Chomsky offers a phenomenological and hermeneutic theory of language, one that is certainly comparable to many others that have been influenced by Humboldt.
However, unlike important figures such as Heidegger, Gadamer, and others, Chomsky has little to say about objective reality apart from its importance for the linguist who busies himself transcribing the grammatical epiphenomena of his human subjects. The comings-and-goings of the scare quotes around the word Copyright material from www. Want to Read saving…. Want to Read Currently Reading Read. Other editions. Enlarge cover. Error rating book. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem?
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