The Ideas of Noam Chomsky: An Introduction to His Theories on Language & Knowledge (1977)

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.

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Relat­ed con­tent:

Noam Chom­sky & Michel Fou­cault Debate Human Nature & Pow­er (1971)

Bryan Magee’s In-Depth, Uncut TV Con­ver­sa­tions With Famous Philoso­phers (1978–87)

Ali G and Noam Chom­sky Talk Lin­guis­tics

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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