pdf Download PDF

The Language of Science and the Science of Language
Chomsky’s Cartesianism

[End Page 38]

Almost from its inception, among the most notable features of Noam Chomsky’s “revolution in linguistics” has been his insistence that linguistics, or language itself, or at least the most interesting and important aspects of linguistics, must be understood as parts of natural science.1 Its status as natural science is frequently posited as a critical distinction between Chomskyan linguistics and all (or almost all) other approaches to the subject.2 Much of the seriousness of the reception of Chomsky’s work can be attributed to this claim, and one finds frequent reference to it in Chomsky’s writings and those of his more ardent supporters. The implied, though rarely stated, assumption appears to be that for linguistics to be serious or truthful it must be “scientific.”

While Chomsky is among the first to admit that the word “language” is ambiguous and polysemous—a fact he often directly references in his work—he rarely reflects on any parallel polysemy in the word “science,” usually writing as if its meaning is transparent and even univocal. Science thus comes to serve as an ideological anchor for Chomsky’s thought in the broadest sense, revealing as much about the foundations of his belief system as it does about the study of language. In turn, despite the explicit and (by his supporters) widely accepted scientific character of Chomsky’s research program, it remains possible to view that program in a different set of historical and contextual frames than the ones on which he insists. Rather than proving, that is, that the study of language now must be seen in a new and “objective” light, Chomsky’s specific formulations can be shown to implicate his work in a set of deep historical-cultural tensions in which no formula is likely ever to emerge as decisive, and in which the pursuit of decisive formulations itself is burdened with more cultural, philosophical, and political baggage than Chomsky can or will admit.

>> The Structure of the Chomskyan Revolutions

Several recent developments in Chomsky’s work make these issues clearer than they may have been in the past. These include a shift of emphasis in Chomsky’s writing, or perhaps a new emphasis on a persistent topos, namely the alignment of Chomsky’s project with what he calls the “biolinguistic program”; his late-career adoption of a position he calls the Minimalist Program, which involves, as the name suggests, drastically reducing the number of parts that make up the putative “language organ” of which the study is Chomsky’s main interest; a set of interviews conducted with one of his main explicators and philosophical acolytes, James McGilvray, under the title The Science of Language, which includes a number of unexpectedly revealing admissions about the nature of Chomsky’s enterprise; and, finally, Chomsky’s surprising late collaboration with two evolutionary biologists, Marc Hauser and W. Tecumseh Fitch, on a pair of articles, the first of which appeared in the journal Science, in which Chomsky directly engages with biological science in a far more direct way than in his entire career prior to it (despite his typical insistence on the scientific nature of his enterprise).3

A more distant prompt, but one perhaps no less immediate in importance, stems from the emergence of certain interesting similarities in, and differences between, the [End Page 39] intellectual trajectories of Chomsky and Edmund Husserl. It is somewhat remarkable that Chomsky writes almost nothing about Husserl, since Husserl is essentially the only twentieth-century intellectual to have used the concept of “universal grammar” in anything like the way Chomsky does, prior to Chomsky’s own work.4 It is more remarkable given that, like Chomsky, Husserl also claimed to have been building a scientific discourse where an improperly metaphysical one had existed before, by drawing firm lines and boundaries among a variety of phenomena that he argues had been allowed to blur, specifically with regard to the place of language in the human mind. It is triply remarkable that Husserl, like Chomsky, draws inspiration from an agonistic relationship with a figure whose formative influence on scientific inquiry in the West is itself ambivalent, namely René Descartes.5 In a closely argued work devoted to Husserl’s engagements with Descartes, Paul MacDonald argues that “there is a pervasive and systematic parallelism between their respective projects” because there is a “profound congruence in their respective points of departure, methodological procedures, and idealized destinations.”6 Beyond their parallel but apparently divergent endorsement of the idea of universal grammar, Husserl’s and Chomsky’s projects are more similar than they may appear on the surface, and it is no surprise, and even typical of Chomsky, that this close resemblance would occupy one of his blind spots regarding his own intellectual heritage, or that he would align himself more closely with Gottlob Frege than with Husserl, thus choosing a somewhat counterintuitive side in the signal bifurcation that defined much of Anglo-American and Continental philosophy from the late nineteenth century forward.7

Husserl’s project itself deserves sustained examination with regard to Chomsky’s, but it is particularly worth viewing Chomsky’s recent work in light of Jacques Derrida’s close engagement with Husserl in the earliest parts of his career.8 Derrida’s work on Husserl is among his deepest and most sustained writing, and interestingly, even in the mid-1960s, Derrida recognizes some homologies between the work of Chomsky and Husserl specifically with regard to Chomsky’s then newly announced Cartesianism.9 While Derrida did not engage with Chomsky’s linguistics substantively after this early work, Chomsky’s career turns out to follow a shape that reflects the fundamental tensions that Derrida locates at the heart of Husserl’s project. In “‘Genesis and Structure’ and Phenomenology,” one of his densest texts, Derrida focuses on the tension in Husserl’s project between “different irreducible types of genesis and structure: worldly genesis and transcendental genesis, empirical structure, eidetic structure, and transcendental structure.” Derrida asks: “what is the historico-semantic relationship between genesis and structure in general?” and indicates that Husserl cannot ask this question because he cannot “interrogate that which precedes the transcendental reduction.”10 Despite his claim to have escaped metaphysics—thus moving philosophy into a secure position as a “science”—Husserl “accomplishes the most profound project of metaphysics.” This admission, or revelation, occurs in Husserl’s work precisely around his agonistic engagement with Descartes.11 A similar dynamic occurs in Chomsky’s research; Chomsky turns out to be preoccupied no less than Husserl is with questions of genesis and structure, but [End Page 40] to demonstrate less explicit awareness of the inevitable tension between them. Perhaps it is not going too far to call it the same dynamic: though it would require a wide-ranging cultural inquiry to demonstrate, Husserl’s engagement with Descartes may well in an important sense be something like Chomsky’s, with the curious addition of Chomsky’s willful blindness to Husserl’s project.

Not coincident to the lack of that awareness is the emphasis Chomsky characteristically places on critical oppositions, in which paired ideas present themselves as urgent and of profoundly unequal importance. In some cases, both of the opposed terms are visible; in others, perhaps even more suggestively, only one term is brought into view. Many of these oppositions are familiar to all students of Chomsky’s linguistics: there is performance vs. competence, where Chomsky is interested only in competence, and where competence represents “real” linguistic knowledge, as opposed to the “defective” data of performance; I-language (where “I” stands for “internal,” or sometimes “intensional” or “individual” language) vs. E-language (where “E” stands for “external”), where only I-language is of interest, and perhaps actually is language itself, despite what many other researchers think when erroneously focusing on E-language; Deep Structure vs. Surface Structure, a distinction from early phases of generative grammar, where only Deep Structure is of interest; the Narrow Faculty of Language (FLN) vs. the Broad Faculty of Language (FLB), a distinction from Chomsky’s recent work with evolutionary biologists, where despite possibly being “empty,” only FLN is the obvious target of interest for linguistics as a science; and many others.

It’s notable that along with this unusual emphasis on binary oppositions, Chomsky also rejects the philosophical methods that make oppositions a central focus, namely all methods that call themselves “dialectics.” Despite the various forms of dialectic found in philosophers as various as Plato, Kant, Hegel, and Marx, at least two of whose writings (Plato and Marx) Chomsky endorses to some extent in any number of works, Chomsky claims he “hasn’t the foggiest idea” what “dialectics” is and declares that “when words like ‘dialectics’ come along, or ‘hermeneutics,’ and all this kind of stuff that’s supposed to be very profound, like Goering, ‘I reach for my revolver.’ ”12 In keeping with his disdain for trying to hold opposing viewpoints in mind, Chomsky vigorously and emphatically dismisses the arguments of critics who suggest that his foundational distinctions might be flawed.13 Further, he very often posits these distinctions as methodological, scientific, or ontological priors, so that he need not entertain serious investigation of their validity; instead he tends to frame them with some of his characteristic statements of authority, declaring them “virtually (conceptually) necessary” or “obvious” on the one hand, or unavoidable procedural gambits on the other.14 [End Page 41]

As followers of dialectical philosophical practices will suspect, and as readers of Derrida in particular will intuit, what tends to happen in Chomsky’s writing is that critical argumentative and philosophical material ends up lodged precisely in the distinctions about which he won’t argue, so that certain characteristics of Deep Structure turn out to be necessary if Deep Structure exists, for example, and since we have to assume Deep Structure exists, those characteristics come along “of necessity.” But since part of the onus of Chomsky’s work has to be, at some level, to convince us that the Deep Structure/Surface Structure distinction actually is a valid one to apply to language, there is a profound circularity in then relying on the logical entailments of Deep Structure’s existence as support for the view that it must exist and be part of a valid theory.

While the roles of overt distinctions like Deep/Surface Structure are frequently discussed by Chomsky’s followers and critics alike, somewhat less immediately apparent is his reliance on categorical distinctions where the disfavored member of the opposition rarely occurs in direct argumentation. Science is among the chief examples of this pattern. Chomsky’s assertions regarding science often take something like the form: the study of language is a science; approaches that do not follow the Chomskyan method are not scientific; ergo those approaches are invalid according to something close to a priori reasoning. These matters are complicated by the specific form of Chomsky’s intellectual and methodological intervention. Chomsky positions his science directly in the midst of one of the central distinctions in Western philosophical history, and one most relevant to scientific inquiry and method: empiricism versus rationalism. Surprisingly for the nature of his research program, Chomsky sides not with the empiricists, whose work is, as the name suggests, often taken to be not just harmonious with but constitutive of the scientific program itself.15 Instead, Chomsky reaches into the paradigm typically associated with Aristotelian, a priori reasoning and an opposition to experiment (usually taken as the sine qua non of scientific inquiry), although he insists that this characterization is incorrect.16 Remarkably, Chomsky asserts that methods and conceptual frames common to the sciences are unscientific (or scientific only within certain proscribed limits) when applied to language, and that procedures not usually employed in science are the only proper ones with which to understand such a core human phenomenon as language.17 This tension turns out to be deeply implicated in conceptual issues that Chomsky downplays but that are evident in many ways at the margins of his works.

It is clear that for Chomsky, science means structure; structure is found in the “language organ” and language itself is structure, or linguistics is about the structure of language—its syntax—rather than language in use, its semantics and pragmatics. The title of Chomsky’s first book, Syntactic Structures, announces these commitments clearly; that short book was famously derived from Chomsky’s much longer 1955 dissertation, “The Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory.” Generative grammars and grammatical transformations are structures; the language organ itself is a structure, even if it cannot be located in any specific place in the brain. Structure is what compels attention, and questions of origin must be put in the background—“‘just-so’ stories,” Chomsky often calls them, all of relatively equal plausibility and none admitting of the scientific [End Page 42] rigor available for inquiries into structure.18 Most of Chomsky’s work is devoted to the description of structures, both in language and in the language organ. Though Chomsky tells a complex story about his lineage in contemporary linguistics, at various moments he has identified his work with Saussurian structuralism, then against it, then, as John Joseph, one of Chomsky’s most trenchant commentators, puts it, the Minimalist Program brings Chomsky “back to something uncomfortably close to what Chomsky in 1962 described as the position of Saussure.”19 Like most true structuralists, Chomsky interests himself almost entirely in synchronic structures and generally eschews issues of diachrony, especially as they impact the human individual, who in Chomsky’s view brings to language a determined interior structuring capability or mechanism, a structuring which just is language and the investigation of which just is linguistics.

Yet it is hard to overlook the fact that at the periphery of Chomsky’s work, issues of genesis continually arise, posing difficulties for the general architecture of his structural theories, and often requiring modifications that end up informing much more of Chomsky’s theories than his rhetoric suggests. The name “generative grammar” itself suggests genesis, though the engine doing the generating is abstract or mathematical in nature (or in its own metaphorical origins). Chomsky’s theory is birthed out of a mathematical, ex nihilo consideration of abstract issues in language production, but it results in his occasional efforts to ground the work in intellectual precursors, even if those precursors were unknown to him during the formulation of his theory. In his early days Chomsky often wrote that questions of the biological plausibility of his theory were irrelevant, even if psychologists suggested that it was hard to imagine how the human child’s brain could accommodate the elaborate language organ his theory required. To answer these challenges, Chomsky theorized a “Language Acquisition Device,” whose relationship to the rest of his theory remains somewhat unclear.20 In his last, minimalist, phase, Chomsky has started to indicate that he does imagine there to be an evolutionary-biological component to his theory, something he routinely denied for much of his career. It seems no accident that this occurs, like the casting-off of so much of his earlier theory, as his own life and career reach their final phases, when autobiographical questions of genesis relating to Chomsky himself become more immediate. [End Page 43]

>> The Science of the Science of Language

In the mid-1960s, the increasing influence of his work in philosophy and in the burgeoning field of cognitive science inspired Chomsky to try to position his project in the philosophical tradition somewhat more centrally than he had previously been able or willing to do in linguistics. At the same time that he was developing the linguistic work that resulted in the highly technical and hugely influential Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (1965), Chomsky made his first forays into the broader context in which he situates his work, resulting in the 1966 Cartesian Linguistics: A Chapter in the History of Rationalist Thought. While the latter touched on his linguistic theories it was largely devoted to situating them in the linguistic and philosophical traditions Chomsky considers relevant to his work. Somewhat surprisingly, given Chomsky’s insistence on the scientific status of his project, Cartesian Linguistics is devoted to demonstrating that the two prior centuries of linguistic and philosophical investigation have turned away from science, and that by contrast,

universal grammarians of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries have made a contribution of lasting value by the very fact that they posed so clearly the problem of changing the orientation of linguistics from “natural history” to “natural philosophy” and by stressing the importance of the search for universal principles and for rational explanation of linguistic fact, if progress is to be made toward this goal.21

There are few more curious aspects of Chomsky’s approach to science than his insistence that science itself emerges not from the empiricist tradition in Western philosophy, but instead from the contrasting rationalist tradition. The figures Chomsky cites as intellectual forebears—especially Leibniz and Descartes, to say nothing of the Port-Royal grammarians and Wilhelm von Humboldt—are not those whose works have, until recently, been cited for scientific inspiration, while those whose views he typically disclaims—especially Locke and Hume—have been. In standard histories of philosophy, “rationalism” is often considered a holdover of the Neoplatonist and Aristotelian traditions of a priori reasoning applied to the natural world, where the experimental approach to natural science and philosophy grounded particularly in the work of Francis Bacon are seen as launching the project of modern science, so that “empiricist” comes to mean something very close to “scientific” per se.

A remarkable paradox in Chomsky’s work is that he overturns this hierarchy not for what he considers philosophical reasons but instead directly because of his understanding [End Page 44] of the nature of science: to Chomsky it was the rationalists, rather than the empiricists, whose approach was scientific. Interestingly, neither the experimental tradition nor figures such as Bacon are frequent topics in Chomsky’s writing, and he does not discuss how his view of rationalism accounts for the general observation that experiment is the thing that kick-started the project of science from the almost thousand-year period of modest scientific development preceding Bacon, much of it dominated by the Neoplatonist and Aristotelian methods Chomsky favors.

In his recent work, Chomsky has intensified his emphasis on the scientific status of his research program and, accordingly, the biological status of language itself, or what Chomsky and others following Eric Lenneberg call the “biolinguistic program.”22 In most introductory and popular treatments of this work, Chomsky is careful to distinguish between the biological ability to use language—which almost no working linguist or evolutionary biologist doubts is some part of the physical endowment of Homo sapiens—and the nature and study of existing human languages.23 It is this latter question, though, that provides the most significant site for controversy in the field, as in his more technical works Chomsky often appears to suggest that human languages themselves are biological objects first and foremost and should be analyzed in biological terms: thus a typical formulation is “a language is a state of the faculty of language, an I-language, in technical usage.”24

Chomsky not infrequently writes that “the study of language is a natural science”; although Chomskyans typically understand the word “language” in this context to mean I-language, it is clear that Chomsky intends to generate the controversy that such statements provoke.25 Many linguists and humanists approach natural language as “a social phenomenon which is part of the natural history of human beings; a sphere of human action, wherein people utter strings of vocal sounds, or inscribe strings of marks, and wherein people respond by thought or action to the sounds or marks,” as the philosopher David Lewis put it in a description of a view crafted to be antithetical to Chomsky’s.26 While Chomsky does not deny that languages are in some sense “out there” (or what he refers to as E-language, where E stands for “external” or “extensional”), to Chomsky, the mature human being must have internalized a representational system that in some way reflects the social one, but is in some sense biologically independent of it.27

It is just here that the central cleavage emerges between Chomsky’s work and that of both non-Chomskyan linguists and humanists as well, and that the status of linguistics as a science begins to take on its fundamental importance. Non-Chomskyans, in general, resist the I-language/E-language distinction; they doubt that the systematicity clearly evident in languages has much to do with the organization of the brain, but instead with social, cultural, and historical factors “outside the head.”28 In earlier formulations of generative grammar, this controversy was easier to portray: to Chomsky through the late 1970s, and the first three of his (approximately) five “revolutions in linguistics,” there was said to be something like a genetically endowed computer program of thousands of lines (consisting not of actual English grammar, but of “operations” such as the transformation that “turns” passive voice constructions into active voice constructions, and so [End Page 45] on). To Chomsky since then and especially with the advent of the Minimalist Program in the mid-1990s, when the notion of a richly featured genetic program faded, the nature of the disagreement has become far less clear, despite Chomsky, along with his followers, insisting on it as a fundamental litmus test for “scientific” linguistics.

The human brain can clearly construct extremely complex formal representations of systems that not even Chomsky proposes are in any sense genetic (city maps constructed by cabbies, physics as understood by a practicing physicist, sports fandom with its plethora of statistics, rules, histories, and so on). The contraction of the Chomskyan program to some set of core formal operations, such as what in the Minimalist Program is called “Merge,” which may or may not be equivalent functionally to what Chomsky, Hauser, and Fitch identify as the mathematical operation of recursion—capabilities which Chomsky himself insists cannot be restricted to language itself, but must be available to other parts of the cognitive system—leaves it not always clear what the disagreement between Chomsky and his critics amounts to. Nevertheless, that disagreement remains a clear shibboleth in intellectual practice, with “linguistics is a natural science” on one side, and “the study of language is not, or not entirely, part of the natural sciences” on the other.29

>> The Problem of Genesis in Chomsky’s Linguistics

Focused on structures within the human mind and in language itself, Chomsky has for the most part avoided direct engagement with questions of origin, though they appear more often than one might expect in the margins of Chomsky’s work. These questions of genesis take two primary forms. First, there is the question of the origin of the language faculty in Homo sapiens, a topic about which Chomsky has shown little direct interest until recently, when, with the advent of the Minimalist Program in the early 1990s, Chomsky became more explicit that his project is actually framed around his search for a single “great leap forward”—“some small genetic modification somehow that modified the brain slightly” and that gave rise to the human language faculty.30 Second, there is an area that Chomsky’s critics have pressed on especially hard over the years, the question of language acquisition: why, if so much of language is genetic, do human languages vary so much, and require so much external stimulus to mature, and even then continue to vary so much?31 Chomsky today shunts aside most of the acquisition question, typically dismissing it as “the problem of explanatory adequacy (when viewed abstractly),” although critics continue to insist that having a linguistic theory that integrates with observed facts about language acquisition is not necessarily the same question as having an adequate evolutionary explanation for the human ability to use language, and that the diversity of human languages is prima facie evidence for the limited character of the biological uniformity of the faculty of language.32

Questions of genesis, of both individual and species development, are those raised most often by his critics, and Chomsky’s work demonstrates a pattern of shifting the argumentative burden from one pole of the opposition to the other, often without [End Page 46] acknowledgment. The Principles and Parameters theory of the 1980s, which suggests that there are a limited number of “plans” for human languages, subsumes the acquisition problem to one of “parameter setting”—the child learning whether a language expresses tense through separate words or morphemes, for example. But as critics point out, this construction puts together two distinct facts: the child’s acquisition of any given language and the historical development of human languages that obey certain parametric settings.33 Does the fact that a child may be sensitive to whether a language is organized according to word order as opposed to inflectional morphology mean that there is some kind of deep program activated every time the child utters an expression (and therefore “chooses” in which form to express it), or just that certain broad inclinations are available without there being much “in the head,” as is known in the sensitivity infants have to the sounds of whatever language they hear very early in life (but for which no rich internal program, other than a kind of tuning of available production and reception mechanisms, is posited)? Either of these constraints could, in fact, be outside the biology of the child, but to Chomsky they are both the same phenomenon and must both admit of an exclusively and possibly identical biological explanation.

This insistence on human uniqueness is part of a deeply cultural commitment in Chomsky’s thought, one that goes on to inform his political thought as well as his philosophy.34 To Chomsky the question is precisely “what is unique to humans as distinct from other primates”?35 One of Chomsky’s core rhetorical strategies that remains controversial to this day is to postulate a perspective radically outside the human and the animal both, a perspective he repeatedly identifies with a theoretical “Martian naturalist,” who “might note that the faculty mediating human communication appears remarkably different from that of other living creatures; it might further note that the human faculty of language appears to be organized like the genetic code—hierarchical, generative, recursive, and virtually limitless with respect to its scope of expression.”36 This remarkable difference has always been Chomsky’s main object of interest: “Something about the faculty of language must be unique in order to explain the differences between humans and other animals.”37 Ultimately, in one of the most controversial formations of his views, Chomsky writes that “there is only one human language, apart from the lexicon.”38

That these questions point to something deeper than, or other than, what is typically understood as “scientific” becomes apparent when we attend to Chomsky’s own language, especially in the later years of his career. To Chomsky, that “something” that distinguishes human capabilities from those of other animals has a mystical quality. Over time it has become clear that for Chomsky this “something” constitutes the proper object of linguistic study. In the recent papers with Hauser and Fitch, Chomsky introduces a new addition to his pantheon of binary distinctions: the “faculty of language— broad sense” (FLB), which roughly includes everything about language that is internal to a mature language user’s mind, brain, and body; and the “faculty of language—narrow sense” (FLN), “the abstract linguistic computational system alone, independent of the other systems with which it interacts and interfaces. FLN is a component of FLB, and the mechanisms underlying it are some subset of those underlying FLB.”39 FLN, of [End Page 47] course, is the object that interests Chomsky, the object that he sometimes refers to without qualification as “language,” the thing that requires scientific study. While he admits that “many scholars who take the complexity of language seriously”—that is to say, most non-Chomskyan linguists—affirm that FLB as a whole integrated system is a “derived, uniquely human adaptation” that incorporates many available cognitive and sensorimotor capabilities, the thesis that interests Chomsky is the one according to which “only FLN is uniquely human.”40

While there are significant empirical and conceptual issues here whose complexity should not be overlooked—whether what is uniquely part of the human biological-linguistic system is also exactly that thing that constitutes human biological uniqueness— Chomsky proceeds with the hypothesis that only FLN is uniquely human, and that FLN “constitutes” language in some fundamental sense. Further, Chomsky has a candidate for FLN. Throughout his career Chomsky has identified the signal mystery of human language facility—the “core property of discrete infinity”—as the ability of humans to produce and understand an unlimited number of novel sentences.41 For Chomsky, and this has been true from the earliest phases of his work, the “property of discrete infinity” requires that “at a minimum, then, FLN includes the capacity of recursion.”42

This minimization of mechanism accompanies Chomsky’s late-career adoption of rhetoric that is especially confounding when considered in light of his emphasis on the scientific nature of his enterprise. The words Chomsky uses to describe this faculty do not sound scientific to contemporary ears: “FLN may approximate a kind of ‘optimal solution’ to the problem of linking the sensory-motor and conceptual-intentional systems,” he writes, in a typical formulation for his recent writings, the word “optimal” occupying at the very least an interesting rhetorical space.43 The word occurs frequently in Chomsky’s writing since the 1990s, along with at least two others: “design” and “perfect.” Titles such as “Three Factors in Language Design” are at least jarring to most linguists, for outside of certain forms of State-based central planning such as L’Académie française, notions of language being “designed” are not ones typically associated with scientific or even scholarly approaches, any more than we expect scientists to talk of the “design of any biological system” or to “suppose that a super-engineer were given design specifications for language,” a thought experiment which is followed by a significant discussion of language itself having “design specifications.”44 It seems fair to wonder whether any other writer would be capable of using this sort of rhetoric while maintaining a claim not just to be “scientific,” but to have specifically made scientific a discipline that had failed to live up to scientific standards, despite repeated attestations to the contrary by many of its leading figures.

Repeatedly in Chomsky’s writing, a great deal appears to rest on the distinction between “the human” and “the animal” and on discovering that “great leap forward” that makes human beings different from all other animals. In language that echoes certain aspects of Descartes, Chomsky typically cites the cognitive scientist Randy Gallistel who “suggests that for every animal down to insects, whatever internal representation there is, it is one-to-one associated with an organism-independent external event, or internal [End Page 48] event. That’s plainly not true of human language. So if [what he claims] is in any way near to being true of animals, there is a very sharp divide there.”45 Other linguists and biologists frequently see language as humans use it as cobbled together out of many different cognitive and sensorimotor systems, which again Chomsky describes as the “null hypothesis for many scholars who take the complexity of language seriously”: “FLB is a highly complex adaptation for language, on a par with the vertebrate eye, and many of its core components can be viewed as individual traits that have been subjected to selection and perfected in recent human evolutionary history.”46 To these researchers, FLB is the object of interest, while FLN, even if it exists, may be so obscure or so tangled up with other systems as to be impossible to isolate, either empirically or conceptually.

The thesis that Chomsky works very hard to reject is one that is probably best put by the linguists/cognitive scientists Ray Jackendoff and Steven Pinker, each of whom has at one time been seen as a complete believer in the Chomskyan perspective, and each of whom, through a variety of controversies and disagreements with Chomsky, some prompted by Chomsky himself, has found himself arguing against Chomsky’s interpretations of the arguments and facts he puts forward. One of the curious facts about this picture is that both Jackendoff and Pinker have commitments to experimental science (i.e., empiricism), whereas Chomsky has almost rigorously avoided any direct contact with experimentation during his entire career, although in later years he does sometimes cite the work of experimental scientists, usually when their conclusions bolster his theories. Jackendoff and Pinker together wrote the most detailed response to the Hauser, Chomsky, and Fitch paper.47 Jackendoff and Pinker, perhaps surprisingly to outsiders, critique Chomsky for not being scientific enough, and for abstracting too far away from known biological and evolutionary evidence. Specifically, they worry about Chomsky’s insistence on there being some abstract entity “language” (or in Chomsky’s terminology, “I-language”) that can somehow be distinguished usefully from what they and other linguists know as language, and therefore that it is useful to think about FLN as something that can be meaningfully partitioned off from everything about language.

What becomes culturally interesting about this debate is that it involves issues of hybridity and mixing, even of religious interpretation, that take us right back to Descartes, the “rational animal,” and the question of the body as entirely mechanical.48 Pinker and Jackendoff insist that whatever the “great leap forward” was that caused the cultural and cognitive explosion we associate with modern humans, it emerged in a matrix of animal capabilities that are too entangled to be analyzed at the atomic level proposed by Chomsky. Jackendoff and Pinker argue that “the language faculty, like other biological systems showing signs of complex adaptive design, is a system of co-adapted traits that evolved by natural selection.”49 This has the effect of drawing attention to the starkness of Chomsky’s proposal: one thing happened suddenly, one thing separates us from them, one thing emerged that “had to have happened in a single person.”50

To Jackendoff and Pinker this is not merely a theoretical idealization of evolution, but a claim contrary to any number of observed points of evidence, including the various physiological changes well known between pre–Homo sapiens (whose capacity for language [End Page 49] remains controversial) and the primate ancestor from which we and modern apes both descend. “Language evolved piecemeal in the human lineage,” they argue, “under the influence of natural selection, with the selected genes having pleiotropic effects that incrementally improved multiple components.”51 This thesis which, as Chomsky admits, is favored by the majority of evolutionary biologists, stresses what can be understood as hybridity and mixing at the origin; as such it counters Chomsky’s apparent investment in a pure, Platonic, “perfect” site of origin, a rupture rather than a graded continuity, a digital rather than analog distinction. Whether or not this thesis turns out to be correct (if such a proposition can ever be finally determined), it is clear enough that Chomsky puts that Platonic perfection on the side of science, thus contrasting it to the messier and more analog forms of genesis that many scientists consider completely unexceptionable as method. This effort on Chomsky’s part to keep such conjectures out of linguistics as a methodological proposition can be seen in this light as a part of his general project to naturalize stark conceptual distinctions, despite their typical lack of fit with the worlds of not just biological but humanistic and social-scientific methods of inquiry.

>> The Language of the Science of Language

Like Jackendoff and Pinker, some of Chomsky’s most outspoken critics were at one point or another his students or colleagues. Two of Chomsky’s earliest collaborators—the linguist Paul Postal and the philosopher Jerrold Katz—were instrumental in the development of the Aspects model in the early 1960s, so much so that an important part of the machinery of earlier forms of generative grammar is still called by Chomskyans the “Katz-Postal principle.” Yet by the 1970s both Katz and Postal, having risen to major prominence in their respective fields, found themselves outside of the Chomskyan circle. With the rise of the Minimalist Program in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Katz and Postal became two of Chomsky’s most vocal critics, specifically questioning the scientific basis of Chomsky’s proposals and his methods.52

Postal, in particular, thinks Chomsky is playing games with language when he suggests that recursion, and/or Merge, can be part of a “biological organ.” Postal observes that such formal operations—both of them involving set theory—are fully abstract, much as all of formal logic and mathematics can be said to be. They do not “exist” anywhere; they are outside of time and space. In this sense they resemble the Aristotelian and Neo-platonist intuitions about the world that experimental and empirical science are thought by most to have unseated. Postal argues that Chomsky’s insistence on “language” being a biological organ that performs set-theoretic operations requires natural languages to be abstract objects that are somehow manifested biochemically in the brain. Despite Chomsky’s claims that a natural language is “a biological thing, the nature of natural language sentences has always forced Chomsky to describe them in a way incompatible with their being biological.”53

Chomsky asserts that it is possible to reconcile empirical science with methodology derived from Cartesian and Aristotelian methods of introspection, and that, in fact, this [End Page 50] is the natural or obvious way for the sciences to proceed. But while Chomsky points at, for example, the mathematical abstractions that characterize physics as models for his approach to the study of language, Postal argues that this comparison cannot hold:

Physicists use abstract formal structures to characterize physical things, not abstract ones. The objects of description have temporal, spatial, causal, etc., properties. But within Chomsky’s set-theoretical-based linguistics, not just the descriptive statements are set-theoretical. The objects described, natural language sentences themselves, are invariably (rightly) taken as set-theoretical.54

Despite Chomsky’s “incredibly numerous repetitions of his foundational doctrine claim that he has been pursuing linguistic research as part of the natural scientific study of human biology, his actual statements about linguistic structures deal exclusively with elements in the realm of abstract objects.”55

One way of cashing out these observations would be to say that Chomsky wants to have it both ways: he wants the mind to be abstract and therefore non-biological, and at the same time to be entirely biological. He wants language to be the result of logical or formal operations taking place in the brain (or mind?), but simultaneously to be entirely contained within physical biology. One linguist has recently termed this position “biolinguistic Platonism,” a perspective she deems “an oxymoron.”56 This follows a line of criticism established with the introduction of Minimalism by the linguists Shalom Lappin, David Johnson, and Robert Levine in a long series of articles and exchanges with Chomsky in the late 1990s and early 2000s; they argue that Chomsky “does not clarify the notion of perfection or optimality as a property of grammar”—in other words that Chomsky relies on Platonic, ideal objects even as he insists on the biological nature of his enterprise, so that despite his unusual claims to make linguistics a science, in fact Minimalism is profoundly “unscientific.”57 Katz has articulated this position in its most refined philosophical form. Katz, who identifies himself as a Platonist, says that Chomsky refuses to accept the Platonist implications of his own thought, and that the “failure of Chomskyan linguistics to solve the problem of the abstractness of grammatical structure” entails Chomsky’s own psychologism itself being a species of the Bloom-fieldian structuralism Chomsky appeared to have overthrown.58 [End Page 51]

While Chomsky rarely discusses and does not endorse phenomenology, there is an interesting parallel between his attempts to identify a realm of ideas purely internal to human perception that can be usefully segregated off from discussions of the external world, and Husserl’s project. When reading interchanges between Chomsky and his followers with his critics, it is not hard to get a feeling similar to the one Derrida invokes in the reader of Husserl: despite the initial plausibility of the thesis being offered that posits a clean distinction between things inside and outside the mind, the more one presses on the distinction the more one enters a mise en abyme. Chomsky’s reliance on Descartes as one of the most important antecedents for the scientific character of his work is suggestive in many different ways, not least because of its unexpectedness. In potted histories of philosophy and science, Descartes’s writing is typically seen as the last gasp of an untenable spiritualism: Cartesian dualism, taken to indicate that there are two entirely different kinds of stuff that make up physical reality, one called “body” and one called “mind” (but usually taken to tie directly to Descartes’s religious commitments, so as to mean something like what we refer to as “soul”), is deeply unpopular (though not entirely without adherents) in contemporary analytic philosophy. In fact Chomsky’s work is often taken as opposed to dualism: whatever “mind” is, it must be made up of the same physical stuff as is the rest of the world, a position typically referred to as “physicalism” or “materialism.”

Despite having in common a fair number of philosophical and methodological dispositions, Edmund Husserl’s name rarely occurs in Chomsky’s work. As with Chomsky, Descartes occupies a privileged and yet unlikely place in Husserl’s philosophy. And for Chomsky the origin of knowledge resembles what James Street Fulton writes of Descartes and Husserl: “knowledge must start, on pain of not being knowledge, with something indubitable and logically underived, that is to say, self-evident.”59 Chomsky’s rhetorical invocations of self-evidence are often noticed by skeptical commentators, who suggest that he uses such constructions precisely to close off logical and empirical challenges to his theories.60

In several of his earliest works, Derrida interrogates the foundations of Husserl’s project, focusing in particular on the ongoing tension between what, following Husserl’s terminology, he calls issues of genesis and structure. Derrida, Christopher Norris writes, “insists on the continuing necessity of thinking through the genesis/structure relationship as raised to a high point of critical consciousness in Husserl’s writings.”61 “It is chiefly for want of such epistemo-critical resources,” Norris continues, that Anglo-American analytic philosophy

engendered a series of well-known problems that were strictly insoluble on its own terms, among them problems concerning the relation between theory and evidence, the status of empirical or observation data, the validity of generalized (covering-law) statements, and the question as to what should count as scientific progress given the lack of any sure criterion for evaluating theories in point of observational accuracy or conceptual-explanatory power.62 [End Page 52]

Norris’s goal is to explain the apparently hard limits of skepticism and the social construction of scientific knowledge represented by figures as various as W. V. Quine, Donald Davidson, Richard Rorty, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, and by the Strong Programme in the sociology of science. At their most extreme, in Norris’s opinion, these figures provide no way to account for scientific theory change, for the variability with which some experimental data and observations result in shifts in the Quinean “web of belief” of scientific theory, while other parts of scientific theory remain intact despite recalcitrant data.

This is not to discount the accomplishments of Quine, Rorty, and the others, but instead to note—in a Kantian vein—that the contribution of human cognition to scientific knowledge provides only one part of the story, a part that threatens to collapse into skepticism if we are unwilling or unable to acknowledge the contribution of the noumena that Kant insists we can think about, but never know with certainty. Kant’s name does not occur here randomly; not only is Kant’s method properly and often explicitly dialectical, but Kant joins Husserl in being one of the figures with whose thought Chomsky’s might very reasonably be said to intersect, but with whom Chomsky rarely if ever engages.63

What Kant offers is the ability to see that we are always trying to get our heads around two sides of these problems at once: science is socially constructed and it is about an objective world that escapes human cognition in unpredictable ways. Derrida’s work embraces this dialectical awareness, a shuttling back and forth between perspectives that appear just quite but not entirely reconcilable, suggesting that this captures something essential about human cognition that is difficult if not impossible to put directly into words. The world is objective, and yet our perceptions of and knowledge about it are so structured by our particular cognitive apparatus that our knowledge of that objectivity can be treated with skepticism so far down the virtual rabbit hole of facts that we can, and to some extent should, doubt the very objectivity on which the scientific project is predicated.

Understood as partly a commentator on science—a point of view that has attracted growing attention recently—Derrida can be said to have crafted observations about how human knowledge itself functions.64 If we fail to heed the unavoidable propensity to advance either genesis or structure as sufficient in itself, we will almost inevitably end up privileging the oppositional pole we seem to be ignoring altogether. This is not to say that the result cannot be useful, but too often focuses that are inveterately structural will make possible larger and larger lacunae around issues of genesis, and vice versa. This is especially true when we approach phenomena in which human interaction is central, among which language is both unique and representative, in that it is nearly impossible to untangle its structural from its genetic features.

The result of such non-dialectical investigations would appear, on a Derridean account, inevitably to reinstall not just the oppositional problems out of which we may have crafted our research questions, but even the most problematic aspects of all epistemic investigation that fails to reflect on the epistemological dialectic at the heart of Kant’s project. In Husserl’s case, at the limit, we find that despite his disdain for [End Page 53] metaphysics, his project turns out to be in essential ways metaphysical. Descartes’s project, cast by Chomsky as the origin point for a science that is the mirror image of science as it is typically understood, manages to retain its theological core, even as it also launches important aspects of the scientific project.

Chomsky, resolutely on the side of structure throughout his career and notably resistant to questions of genesis, nevertheless finds himself repeatedly forced to address issues of genesis by his critics, and these answers are among the least satisfying and most mystifying aspects of his work. As his career comes to a close, then, it is remarkable how the parallel with Husserl plays out. But Chomsky is much less a dialectician than was Husserl, and so the metaphysical blind spots of which Husserl was at least partly aware appear to escape Chomsky’s notice almost entirely. The language of “design,” “perfection,” and “optimal solution” begins to haunt his discourse more and more, despite the opacity of such terms to ordinary scientific inquiry, despite their imbrication in contemporary culture in the language considered profoundly unscientific: so-called creation science, or the religious opposition to the scientific investigation of questions of genesis. For advocates of “creation science,” the phrase “intelligent design” is a hallmark of which Chomsky cannot be ignorant, and which provides nearly the only conceivable cultural locus for his use of the same word “design,” despite its apparent incompatibility with scientific inquiry.

Eschewing dialectical modes of inquiry, such efforts nearly always devolve into considerations of their own methodological presumptions, whatever their scientific value (and I am not here disputing, in the most general sense, the proposition that Chomsky’s work has scientific value; it surely does, in no small part by pushing one side of the genesis/structure opposition to its absolute limit). Those considerations emerge as the Derridean figure of the mise en abyme, the abyssal repetition of a figure within itself, interestingly reminiscent of the recursion itself that Chomsky ultimately admits, according to his perspective, may be “all” of language. Postal finds in The Science of Language what he calls “the most scandalous comment in linguistic history,” wherein Chomsky admits that he really has no account of how FLN can be both biological and set-theoretic.65 I invoke this judgment only to note that there is something final about Chomsky’s recent work, as if he finally peers into the dialectical abyss whose existence he has generally worked so hard to deny.

Another admission in The Science of Language is at least as striking and, on a scientific account, perhaps even more shocking. It occurs when McGilvray asks Chomsky to [End Page 54] focus in on how the conceptual-intentional system interacts with the sensorimotor system. Chomsky’s response includes the assertion that “we know that, somehow, there’s a homunculus out there who’s using the entire sound and entire meaning—that’s the way we think and talk.”66 It is hard to imagine a less scientific and more abyssal statement than this one (for good measure, Chomsky asserts the existence of the homunculus at least twice more in the book), nor a more discredited image from the history of science, one that simply reinstalls the entire intellectual problematic at one remove from the site at which it is currently lodged. One cannot help wanting to press Chomsky on this point, asking whether that homunculus has its own FLN and FLB and its own homunculus, and so on, as well as to reflect on the rich historical and cultural resonances of the figure of the homunculus itself, including its fleeting resemblance to the notorious “evil demon” Descartes invokes in the Meditations on First Philosophy. Despite Chomsky’s typically declamatory style in asserting that “we know” there is a homunculus inside the brain/mind, it is far more certain that any theory that includes such an abyssal figure as part of science simply cannot be complete. Its presence suggests that Chomsky’s overall framework has become about keeping genesis and structure apart, rather than recognizing that for both human science and human language, the two cannot be effectively separated. [End Page 55]

David Golumbia

David Golumbia teaches in the English Department and the Media, Art, and Text PhD program at Virginia Commonwealth University. He is the author of The Cultural Logic of Computation (Harvard University Press, 2009) and more than two dozen articles on digital culture, language, and literary studies. He maintains the digital studies blog http://uncomputing.org. He is currently working on a book called “Cyberlibertarianism: The False Promise of Digital Freedom.”


I appreciate insightful comments on earlier versions of this essay from Diane Brown, Laurent Dubreuil, Brian Lennon, and Christopher Wise, and discussions regarding some of the material informing it with Lise Dobrin and Kevin Russell.

1. The conventional sequence of these revolutions includes the Standard Theory, inaugurated in 1957 with Syntactic Structures and continuing until the 1965 Aspects of the Theory of Syntax; the Extended Standard Theory, beginning to some degree with Aspects but having its most complete exemplars in the 1972 Studies on Semantics in Generative Grammar and in a work by Chomsky’s student Ray Jackendoff, Semantic Interpretation in Generative Grammar; the Revised Extended Standard Theory, usually pegged to the 1977 Essays on Form and Interpretation; the Principles and Parameters Theory, which emerges at the same time as the closely related Government-Binding Theory, of the 1980s, articulated most fully in Lectures on Government and Binding and in the first chapter of The Minimalist Program, “The Theory of Principles and Parameters”; and The Minimalist Program itself, described in The Minimal-ist Program and in essays such as “Beyond Explanatory Adequacy,” “Derivation by Phase,” “Minimalist Inquiries,” and “Three Factors in Language Design.” Randy Harris provides a detailed outsider’s account of these changes, especially those prior to the Minimal-ist Program in Linguistics Wars. Andrew Radford, in Transformational Grammar and Syntactic Theory and the Structure of English, provides a general Chomskyan overview of the theories. While there is no doubt a great deal of continuity between the theories, and later versions often incorporate features from earlier theories, it is also clear that Chomsky’s overall picture of the language organ has changed dramatically over the course of his career, so that many of the most important features of the earliest theories have been abandoned or even directly contravened in more recent versions.

2. For descriptions of Chomskyan linguistics as a natural science, see, e.g., Chomsky, “Of Minds and Language,” The Science of Language, and New Horizons, chapter 5, “Language as a Natural Object.” See also James McGilvray’s introduction and appendices in Chomsky, The Science of Language, and his introduction to the third edition of Chomsky’s Cartesian Linguistics; and Smith, “Chomsky’s Science of Language.”

3. See Chomsky, The Science of Language. The scientific papers are Hauser, Chomsky, and Fitch, “The Faculty of Language,” published in Science, and Fitch, Hauser, and Chomsky, “The Evolution of the Language Faculty,” a response to some criticisms of the original paper that appeared in the academic journal Cognition. Given the unique status of this collaboration as the only time Chomsky published with practicing scientists in his career, it seems unavoidable to mention that Hauser resigned his faculty position at Harvard in 2011 and lost access to all federal funding after being found guilty of scientific misconduct (unrelated to his work with Chomsky) in Harvard and US government investigations; he no longer works in the field. See Newcomer and Spitzer, “Marc Hauser’s Fall from Grace,” and US Department of Health and Human Services, “Findings of Research Misconduct.” It is worth noting that The Science of Language has prompted some of the severest criticism directed at Chomsky from within the linguistics community over the course of his very controversial career. See “Chomsky’s Foundational Admission” by Chomsky’s former collaborator and then long-time adversary Paul Postal, who claims that the book provides the first explicit confirmation of the incoherence of Chomsky’s program (see below for a discussion of Postal’s critique). See in particular Christina Behme, who writes that Chomsky’s “recent work fails to meet serious scientific standards because he rejects scientific procedure, inflates the value of his own work, and distorts the work of others” (“A ‘Galilean’ Science of Language,” 672). [End Page 56]

4. See Herman, Universal Grammar and Narrative Form, for a genealogy of pre-Chomskyan, twentieth-century deployments of the idea of universal grammar. On the similarities and differences in universal grammar as articulated in Husserl and Chomsky, see, e.g., Edie, “Husserl’s Conception of ‘The Grammatical’ and Contemporary Linguistics,” and Kuroda, “Edmund Husserl, Grammaire Générale et Raisonnée and Anton Marty.”

5. For the relationship between Husserl and Descartes, in addition to Derrida discussed below, see Fulton, “The Cartesianism of Phenomenology,” and MacDonald, Descartes and Husserl.

7. See Norris, “Theory-Change and the Logic of Enquiry,” and more generally on the Husserl-Frege split, the work of Michael Dummett, especially his Origins of Analytical Philosophy.

8. See Derrida, “‘Genesis and Structure’ and Phenomenology,” Edmund Husserl’s “Origin of Geometry,” The Problem of Genesis in Husserl’s Philosophy, and Speech and Phenomena. See Lawlor, Derrida and Husserl, for an overview of Derrida’s work on Husserl.

9. Derrida’s closest engagement with Chomsky’s linguistics, and in particular with Cartesian Linguistics, is found in “The Linguistic Circle of Geneva.”

11. Christopher Wise provides a thorough examination of Chomsky’s interpretation of and reliance upon Descartes’s thought in Chomsky and Deconstruction, especially in the first two chapters.

13. See Harris, The Linguistics Wars.

14. See Postal, Skeptical Linguistic Essays, for pointed analyses of these rhetorical aspects of Chomsky’s writing.

15. That the association of rationalism with a specifically scientific approach is unusual is noted not just by Chomsky’s critics but even by his followers. Norbert Hornstein, one of Chomsky’s longest-standing and most enthusiastic supporters in linguistics, for example, acknowledges that to most science-minded philosophers, an “empiricist psychology” might appear to be “the only way to avoid a ‘miracle’ theory of knowledge” (“Empiricism and Rationalism as Research Strategies,” 156).

16. See Chomsky, Cartesian Linguistics, and The Science of Language.

17. This leads Chomsky to an unexpected hostility to probabilistic methods in all the sciences. In The Science of Language he critiques probabilistic approaches to linguistics for being unscientific, and in an interview with Yarden Katz, “Noam Chomsky on Where Artificial Intelligence Went Wrong,” he rejects all probabilistic approaches to cognitive science in similar terms.

18. See the discussion of “just-so” stories in McGilvray, “Appendix 2,” in Chomsky, The Science of Language, 170–73.

19. Joseph, From Whitney to Chomsky, 154; see pp. 143–55 for a detailed discussion of Chomsky’s changing relationship to Saussure.

20. See Chomsky, Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. Laura-Ann Petitto reflects on the language acquisition device in light of recent Chomskyan theory in “How the Brain Begets Language.”

22. Chomsky typically ascribes the concept of the “biolinguistic program” to his colleague Eric Lenneberg; see Lenneberg’s Biological Foundations of Language. In recent years the field has experienced a significant resurgence; the journal Biolinguistics was launched in 2007 specifically to explore these [End Page 57] questions, and the concerns are reflected in Di Sciullo and Boeckx, The Biolinguistic Enterprise.

23. The clearest attempt to distinguish between the scientific status of the study of the capacity to use language being a part of science, versus that of the study of language, is found in the philosopher Michael Devitt’s Ignorance of Language, an extended rebuttal to Chomsky’s Knowledge of Language.

27. See Chomsky, Knowledge of Language, 19–50, for an extended discussion of E-language and its relation to I-language.

28. The notion of meanings (and by extension language in some important sense) being “outside the head” comes from Hilary Putnam in “The Meaning of ‘Meaning’”; Putnam is the philosopher who has most consistently articulated dissent to Chomsky’s perspective.

29. On the diminishing distance between Chomsky’s work and that of the linguists he has from his earliest work depicted as opposed to his approach, see Golumbia, “Minimalism Is Functionalism.”

30. Chomsky, The Science of Language, 13. Merge is described at length in The Minimalist Program and The Science of Language, as well as in many other publications by Chomsky in the years since The Mini-malist Program appeared, such as “Beyond Explanatory Adequacy,” “Derivation by Phase,” “Minimalist Inquiries,” and “Three Factors in Language Design.”

31. For a recent example of the debate about linguistic diversity and its meaning for the Chomskyan program, see Evans and Levinson, “The Myth of Language Universals,” along with the open peer commentary following it, which includes responses by many Chomskyans as well as critics of Chomsky.

33. In The Atoms of Language, Mark Baker provides an especially thorough and lucid description of the Principles and Parameters theory, focusing in particular on the way that parameters might account for linguistic diversity.

34. In recent years many scholars have attempted to connect Chomsky’s linguistic and political work in a variety of different ways. See, among many others, Golumbia, The Cultural Logic of Computation, chapter 2; McGilvray, introduction to the third edition of Cartesian Linguistics, and McGilvray, “Meaning and Creativity”; Smith, Chomsky; and Wilson, “The Individual, the State, and the Corporation.”

40. Ibid., 1572–73.

41. Ibid., 1571.

42. Ibid.

43. Ibid., 1574.

45. Chomsky, The Science of Language, 33 (passage in square brackets has been added by the volume editors). [End Page 58]

47. Pinker and Jackendoff, “The Faculty of Language: What’s Special about It?,” responds to Hauser, Chomsky, and Fitch, “The Faculty of Language.” In turn, Fitch, Hauser, and Chomsky respond to Pinker and Jackendoff in “The Evolution of the Language Faculty”; Jackendoff and Pinker reply in “The Nature of the Language Faculty and Its Implications for Evolution of Language.”

48. In The Animal That Therefore I Am, Derrida discuses at length the figures of the animal and the machine in Descartes and their intimate relationship with cognition and language.

52. For a detailed history of Katz’s and Postal’s contributions to and subsequent critique of Chomsky’s research, see Harris, The Linguistics Wars.

54. Ibid., 7.

55. Ibid., 13.

56. Behme, “A ‘Galilean’ Science of Language.”

57. Lappin, Levine, and Johnson, “The Structure of Unscientific Revolutions,” 665. Also see Johnson and Lappin, “A Critique of the Minimalist Program,” Katz and Postal, “Realism vs. Conceptualism in Linguistics,” and Langendoen and Postal, The Vastness of Natural Languages.

60. Postal, Skeptical Linguistic Essays, especially chapters 9 and 12.

62. Ibid., 65–66.

63. In Chomsky and Deconstruction, Wise provides a thorough analysis of several ways in which Chomsky’s work fails to recognize important features of Kant’s project that intersect with his and the consequences of this resemblance (22–40, 53–56); he also shows how Chomsky presents an inaccurate description of empirical science and its intersection with the Cartesian philosophy in both Kant and Locke (70–73).

64. For Derrida in a scientific context, see Barad, “Quantum Entanglements and Hauntological Relations of Inheritance,” Kirby, “Original Science,” Norris, “Deconstruction, Science, and the Logic of Enquiry” and “Theory-Change and the Logic of Enquiry,” Johnson, System and Writing in the Philosophy of Jacques Derrida, and Hägglund, Radical Atheism.

65. Postal, “Chomsky’s Foundational Admission.” Also see Behme, “A ‘Galilean’ Science of Language.”

Works Cited

Baker, Mark C. The Atoms of Language: The Mind’s Hidden Rules of Grammar. New York: Basic Books, 2002.
Barad, Karen. “Quantum Entanglements and Haunto-logical Relations of Inheritance: Dis/continuities, SpaceTime Enfoldings, and Justice-to-Come.” Derrida Today 3, no. 2 (2010): 240–68.
Behme, Christina. “A ‘Galilean’ Science of Language.” Journal of Linguistics 50, no. 3 (2014): 671–704.
Chomsky, Noam. Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1965.
———. “Beyond Explanatory Adequacy.” MIT Occasional Papers in Linguistics, no. 20. Cambridge: MIT Working Papers in Linguistics, 2001.
———. Cartesian Linguistics: A Chapter in the History of Rationalist Thought. 3rd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
———. “Derivation by Phase.” MIT Occasional Papers in Linguistics, no. 18. Cambridge: MIT Working Papers in Linguistics, 1999.
———. Essays on Form and Interpretation. New York: Elsevier North-Holland, 1977.
———. Knowledge of Language: Its Nature, Origin, and Use. New York: Praeger, 1986.
———. Lectures on Government and Binding. The Hague: Mouton, 1981.
———. “Minimalist Inquiries: The Framework.” In Step by Step: Essays in Minimalist Syntax in Honor of Howard Lasnik, edited by Robert Martin, David Michaels, and Juan Uriagereka, 89–155. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000.
———. The Minimalist Program. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995.
———. “Of Minds and Language.” Biolinguistics 1 (2007): 9–27.
———. The Science of Language: Interviews with James McGilvray. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
———. Studies on Semantics in Generative Grammar. The Hague: Mouton, 1972.
———. Syntactic Structures. The Hague: Mouton, 1957.
———. “Three Factors in Language Design.” Linguistic Inquiry 36, no. 1 (2005): 1–22.
———. Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky, edited by Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel. New York: The New Press, 2002.
Derrida, Jacques. The Animal That Therefore I Am. Translated by David Wills. New York: Fordham University Press, 2008.
———. Edmund Husserl’s “Origin of Geometry”: An Introduction. Translated by John P. Leavey Jr. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989.
———. “‘Genesis and Structure’ and Phenomenology.” In Writing and Difference, translated by Alan Bass, 154–68. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.
———. “The Linguistic Circle of Geneva.” In Margins of Philosophy, translated by Alan Bass, 137–54. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.
———. The Problem of Genesis in Husserl’s Philosophy. Translated by Marian Hobson. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.
———. Speech and Phenomena and Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs. Translated by David B. Allison. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1973.
Devitt, Michael. Ignorance of Language. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Di Sciullo, Anna Maria, and Cedric Boeckx, eds. The Biolinguistic Enterprise: New Perspectives on the [End Page 60] Evolution and Nature of the Human Language Faculty. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Dummett, Michael. Origins of Analytical Philosophy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996.
Edie, J. M. “Husserl’s Conception of ‘The Grammatical’ and Contemporary Linguistics.” In Readings on Edmund Husserl’s “Logical Investigations,” edited by J. N. Mohanty, 137–61. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1977.
Evans, Nicholas, and Stephen C. Levinson. “The Myth of Language Universals: Language Diversity and Its Importance for Cognitive Science.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 32, no. 5 (2009): 429–48; open peer commentary, 448–92.
Fitch, W. Tecumseh, Marc D. Hauser, and Noam Chomsky. “The Evolution of the Language Faculty: Clarifications and Implications.” Cognition 97, no. 2 (2005): 179–210.
Fulton, James Street. “The Cartesianism of Phenomenology.” The Philosophical Review 49, no. 3 (1940): 285–308.
Golumbia, David. The Cultural Logic of Computation. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009.
———. “Minimalism Is Functionalism.” Language Sciences 32, no. 1 (2010): 28–42.
Hägglund, Martin. Radical Atheism: Derrida and the Time of Life. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008.
Harris, Randy Allen. The Linguistics Wars. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Hauser, Marc D., Noam Chomsky, and W. Tecumseh Fitch. “The Faculty of Language: What Is It, Who Has It, and How Did It Evolve?” Science, n.s., 298, no. 5598 (Nov. 22, 2002): 1569–79.
Herman, David. Universal Grammar and Narrative Form. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995.
Hornstein, Norbert. “Empiricism and Rationalism as Research Strategies.” In McGilvray, The Cambridge Companion to Chomsky, 145–63.
Jackendoff, Ray. Semantic Interpretation in Generative Grammar. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1974.
Jackendoff, Ray, and Steven Pinker. “The Nature of the Language Faculty and Its Implications for Evolution of Language (Reply to Fitch, Hauser, and Chomsky).” Cognition 97, no. 2 (2005): 211–25.
Johnson, Christopher. System and Writing in the Philosophy of Jacques Derrida. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Johnson, David, and Shalom Lappin. “A Critique of the Minimalist Program.” Linguistics and Philosophy 20, no. 3 (1997): 273–333.
Joseph, John E. From Whitney to Chomsky: Essays in the History of American Linguistics. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2002.
Katz, Jerrold. Realistic Rationalism. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000.
———. “The Unfinished Chomskyan Revolution.” Mind & Language 11, no. 3 (1996): 270–94.
Katz, Jerrold J., and Paul M. Postal. “Realism vs. Conceptualism in Linguistics.” Linguistics and Philosophy 14, no. 5 (1991): 515–54.
Katz, Yarden. “Noam Chomsky on Where Artificial Intelligence Went Wrong” (includes an interview with Noam Chomsky). The Atlantic. November 1, 2012. http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/11/noam-chomsky-on-where-artificial-intelligence-went-wrong/261637/.
Kirby, Vicki. “Original Science: Nature Deconstructing Itself.” Derrida Today 3, no. 2 (2010): 201–20.
Kuroda, S.-Y. “Edmund Husserl, Grammaire Générale et Raisonnée and Anton Marty.” Foundations of Language 10, no. 2 (1973): 169–95. [End Page 61]
Langendoen, D. Terence, and Paul M. Postal. The Vastness of Natural Languages. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1984.
Lappin, Shalom, Robert D. Levine, and David E. Johnson. “The Structure of Unscientific Revolutions.” Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 18, no. 3 (2000): 665–71.
Lawlor, Leonard. Derrida and Husserl: The Basic Problem of Phenomenology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002.
Lenneberg, Eric H. Biological Foundations of Language. New York: Wiley, 1967.
Lewis, David. “Languages, Language, and Grammar.” In On Noam Chomsky, edited by Gilbert Harman, 253–66. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1974.
MacDonald, Paul S. Descartes and Husserl: The Philosophical Project of Radical Beginnings. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000.
McGilvray, James, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Chomsky. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
———. “Meaning and Creativity.” In McGilvray, The Cambridge Companion to Chomsky, 204–24.
Newcomer, Eric P., and Elyssa A. L. Spitzer. “Marc Hauser’s Fall from Grace.” The Harvard Crimson. September 14, 2010. http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2010/9/14/hauser-lab-research-professor.
Norris, Christopher. “Deconstruction, Science, and the Logic of Enquiry.” Derrida Today 3, no. 2 (2010): 178–200.
———. “Theory-Change and the Logic of Enquiry: New Bearings in Philosophy of Science.” The Review of Metaphysics 53, no. 1 (1999): 21–68.
Petitto, Laura-Ann. “How the Brain Begets Language.” In McGilvray, The Cambridge Companion to Chomsky, 84–101.
Pinker, Steven, and Ray Jackendoff. “The Faculty of Language: What’s Special about It?” Cognition 95, no. 2 (2005): 201–36.
Postal, Paul M. “Chomsky’s Foundational Admission.” Draft paper posted at LingBuzz, July 2012. http://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/001569.
———. Skeptical Linguistic Essays. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Putnam, Hilary. “The Meaning of ‘Meaning.’” In Philosophical Papers. Vol. 2, Mind, Language, and Reality, 215–71. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979.
Radford, Andrew. Syntactic Theory and the Structure of English: A Minimalist Approach. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
———. Transformational Grammar: A First Course. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
Smith, Neil. Chomsky: Ideas and Ideals. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
———. “Chomsky’s Science of Language.” In McGilvray, The Cambridge Companion to Chomsky, 21–41.
US Department of Health and Human Services. “Findings of Research Misconduct.” Federal Register 77, no. 173 (September 6, 2012): 54917–19.
Wilson, James. “The Individual, the State, and the Corporation.” In McGilvray, The Cambridge Companion to Chomsky, 240–59.
Wise, Christopher. Chomsky and Deconstruction: The Politics of Unconscious Knowledge. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. [End Page 62]