The Cambridge Companion to Chomsky
Noam Chomsky is one of the most influential thinkers of modern times. The most cited writer in the humanities, his work has revolutionized the field of linguistics, and has dominated many other disciplines including politics and the philosophy of mind and human nature. This Companion brings together a team of leading linguists, philosophers, cognitive scientists and political theorists to consolidate the disparate strands of Chomsky’s thought into one accessible volume and an essential guide to one of the leading intellectual figures of our time.
At the time of writing, Noam Chomsky has produced over eighty books, hundreds of articles, and thousands of speeches. He has given thousands of interviews, written countless letters, and supervised scores of theses. He has made important, sometimes groundbreaking, contributions to three areas – linguistics, philosophy of mind and human nature, and politics. He set linguistics on a successful naturalistic, biologically oriented scientific course; his theoretical contributions continue to lead the field. Like Descartes, Galileo, and Hume, and unlike the eighteenth-century philosopher Kant and the great majority of philosophers thereafter, Chomsky is both scientist and philosopher, and his philosophical work is continuous with his scientific. His science of language and incipient science of mind offer a genuine prospect of coming to a biologically based grasp of human nature and of the way it allows for human understanding and action. His political work, like both Hobbes’s and Rousseau’s, seeks a foundation in a science of human nature, although with better prospects for developing such a theory – and for exploring its implications for political ideals and goals – than Hobbes’s misguided attempt to construct a causal theory of human action or Rousseau’s fanciful assays into a “state of nature.” And unlike both of them – and far too many contemporary political “theorists” – there is no sign in Chomsky’s political work that his views and critical analyses are driven by a wish for power.
One purpose of this volume is to offer to a general audience several people’s perspectives on Chomsky’s contributions in linguistics, philosophy of mind and human nature, and politics. The first chapter in each section provides an overview of Chomsky’s views in these areas. Succeeding chapters develop major themes. I sketch some of those themes and how contributors develop them near the end of this introduction. A sketch suffices: the chapters and organization are self-explanatory.
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