Desktop version

Home arrow Philosophy arrow The handy philosophy answer book

Philosophy of language

What is the connection between philosophy of mind and philosophy of language in analytic philosophy?

Their development has been intertwined since the end of the behaviorist explanation of language learning. The new field of cognitive science, which arose from Noam Chomsky's (1929-) philosophical treatment of linguistics that disproved behaviorism, shows how philosophy of language is connected to philosophy of mind. When Chomsky proved that language learning required innate linguistic capacities, the whole tabula rasa or blank slate theory of mind came tumbling down.

What is behaviorism?

Propounded by psychologists Ivan Pavlov (1859-1936) and John Broadus (J.B.) Watson (1878-1958) and streamlined by Burhus Frederick (B.F.) Skinner (1904-1990), behaviorism was the thesis that introspection had no use for a science of mind. Behavior is modified by its consequences in ways that can be described without any recourse to the mind in terms of intentions, beliefs, or prior knowledge. Human psychology was no more than behavior that could observed in the laboratory, without considering that behavior from the point of view of the subject who was "behaving." Learning is conditioning, a series of automatic responses to repetitive rewards and punishment. Watson propounded the theory of behaviorism in his book Behaviorism (1925).

Noam Chomsky's (1929-) review of Skinner's 1959 classic tome Verbal Behavior is taken to have demolished Skinner's behaviorist theory of language learning, and behaviorism more generally. This is important to philosophy in two ways. First it restores the importance of how things seem or are experienced by a human subject. Second, it allows for speculation and analysis of how what is going on in the subject's mind is organized and processed in the brain.

Psychologist Ivan Pavlov helped show that people's behaviors can be modified over time (Art Archive).

Psychologist Ivan Pavlov helped show that people's behaviors can be modified over time (Art Archive).

Noam Chomsky

Who is Noam Chomsky?

Avram Noam Chomsky (1928—) is an American philosopher of linguistics and one of the most widely influential critics of contemporary politics over the twentieth century and beyond. Now a professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Chomsky is recognized as an important founder of cognitive science in linguistics, psychology, and philosophy of mind, as well as computer science.

His major publications that are relevant to philosophy of language and mind include: Syntactic Structures (1957), Cartesian Linguistics (1966), Current Issues in Linguistic Theory (1964), Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (1965), The Sound Pattern of English (with Morris Hall; 1968), Language and Mind (1968), Studies on Semantics in Generative Grammar (1972), The Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory (1975), Reflections on Language (1975), Essays on Form and Interpretation (1977), Rules and Representations (1980), Language and the Study of Mind (1982), Modular Approaches to the Study of the Mind (1984), Knowledge of Language: Its Nature, Origin, and Use (1986), (Barriers Linguistic Inquiry Monograph Thirteen) (1986), Language and Thought (1993), The Minimalist Program (1998), On Language (1998), and New Horizons in the Study of Language and Mind (2000).

What was Noam Chomsky's argument against behaviorism?

Chomsky (1928—) objected on the grounds that the speed with which a child learns a language and demonstrates an ability to form correct new sentences, even without hearing grammatically correct speech, implies that this language ability has not been learned. Behaviorism was fundamentally a theory that all human knowledge and behavior, including language use, was learned.

What is Noam Chomsky's own theory of language?

While Chomsky has developed different versions of his theories over the years, often abandoning his own followers of previous versions, most commentators agree that overall themes and trends in his thought amount to the claim that linguistic ability or language in a general syntactic or grammatical sense is "hard wired" into the human brain as a physical structure enabling a linguistic "faculty."

Chomsky has posited a "Universal Grammar" that limits the group of possible human languages. In philosophical terms, this is a rationalist, rather than an empiricist, approach to language. Thus, in Cartesian Linguistics (1966), Chomsky clearly stated, in affinity with René Descartes (1596—1650), that human language is innate and that human beings universally share this capacity. It should be noted, however, that Chomsky is a materialist concerning mental activity, whereas Descartes believed that the mind was a non-material substance.

Noam Chomsky is a brilliant linguist who developed a Universal Grammar that limited possible languages and showed that the human mind can be studied like a natural phenomenon (AP).

Noam Chomsky is a brilliant linguist who developed a Universal Grammar that limited possible languages and showed that the human mind can be studied like a natural phenomenon (AP).

Why has Noam Chomsky's theory of language been so influential?

Chomsky's principle of a Universal Grammar is compatible with materialism. It entails that the mind can be scientifically studied like a natural phenomenon. Moreover, the output of speakers can be used as data from which to infer deeper linguistic structures than those evident in spoken language. Insofar as language is an important, if not primary, mental activity, the idea of innate physical structures determining language production has implications for understanding other mental functions. Chomsky's work in linguistics has had a strong influence on the philosopher of mind Jerry Fodor (1935—), for example.

Why is materialism important regarding the analytic philosophy of mind?

Whether the mind is equated with the physical brain or held to be closely connected to it, analytic philosophers of mind have been united in a materialist view since Gilbert Ryle (1900-1976) wrote The Concept of Mind (1949).

Who was Gilbert Ryle and what was his thesis?

Gilbert Ryle (1900-1976) was the Oxford philosophy professor who edited the journal Mind after G.E. Moore (1873-1958). He is famous for having conclusively taken philosophers to task for talking about the mind as though it were "the ghost in the machine." He attacked the lingering Cartesian idea of the mind as a non-physical entity related to the body in ways that could not be explained. Instead, he said statements that were about the mind should be viewed as meaningful only if they could be explained in terms of actual behavior or behavioral tendencies.

 
Found a mistake? Please highlight the word and press Shift + Enter  
< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >

Related topics