We’ve featured the linguist and polemicist Noam Chomsky here before, and not two weeks ago we posted about philosopher-broadcaster Bryan Magee. The Ideas of Noam Chomsky brings the two men together for a chat about linguistics, the philosophy of language, human cognitive programming, and the philosophy of science. Though Magee introduces Chomsky, a highly nontraditional intellectual to his adherents and detractors alike, as “something of a joker in the pack, as far as philosophy is concerned,” he interviews him with all the attentiveness and respect he brings to discussions with purely philosophical luminaries. Clearly, Magee wants to know more about Chomsky’s theories of language, and especially about their implications for what he calls the dominant philosophical problem: “that of the relationship between language and the world.”
Rarely questioned along these lines in the media, Chomsky responds thoughtfully and in detail. This ultimately leads to a conversation about the divide between where meaningful scientific theories can develop, and where our cognitive limitations might prevent them from developing. You’ll notice that none of this has to do with politics, and political guidance is what most of Chomsky’s fans have expected from him over the decades. While even Chomsky himself has admitted to seeing no connection between his academic and activist careers, Magee pursues a line of inquiry late in the broadcast meant to tie them together. Magee asks astute questions and Chomsky provides honest answers, but finding a common root between ideas like deep grammar and anarchist socialism perhaps remains an intellectual stunt best not tried at home.