What Kind of Creatures Are We? (Columbia Themes in Philosophy) Kindle Edition
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- Length: 196 pages
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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- Grade Level: 17 and up
A pioneer in the fields of modern linguistics and cognitive science, Noam Chomsky is also one of the most avidly read political theorist of our time. In this series of lectures, Chomsky presents more than half a century of philosophical reflection on all three of these areas.
In precise yet accessible language, Chomsky elaborates on the scientific study of language, sketching how his own work has implications for the origins of language, the close relations that language bears to thought, its eventual biological basis. He expounds and criticizes many alternative theories, such as those that emphasize the social, the communicative, and the referential aspects of language. He also investigates the apparent scope and limits of human cognitive capacities.
Moving from language and mind to society and politics, Chomsky concludes with a philosophical defense of a position he describes as "libertarian socialism," tracing its links to anarchism and the ideas of John Dewey, and even briefly to the ideas of Karl Marx and John Stuart Mill. Demonstrating its conceptual growth out of our historical past, he also shows its urgent relation to our present moment.
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Noam Chomsky is arguably the most influential thinker of our time, having made seminal contributions to linguistics and philosophy, as well as political and social thought. In one succinct and powerfully argued volume, he presents a synthesis of his key ideas. -- Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard University
Noam Chomsky launches this remarkable discussion with the age old question, "What kind of creatures are we?" Thus begins an extended inquiry into human cognition that takes him from the ancients to contemporary theorists of language and science, to politics. Chomsky's erudition is formidable, and I read his disquisition with pleasure and many "aha' moments. But what stands out for me is his wisdom; he accepts that being mere biological creatures, there is much that we can never know, and yet he is deeply empathetic with us, his fellow creatures who must struggle and try to impact our world, even though we ultimately cannot know. -- Frances Fox Piven, Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Graduate Center of the City University of New York
It's always spring in Mr. Chomsky's garden. Like John Ashbery, Noam Chomsky seems to come up with thoughts that are always fresh, unaffected by the polluting clichés that most of us inhale and exhale all day and night. To read his sentences is a life-giving elixir. -- Wallace Shawn, author, Essays
Engaging. ― Library Journal
Recommended. ― Choice
A rewarding and challenging read. ― PsycCritiques
Differentiating between problems, which we can solve, and mysteries, which we cannot, Chomsky concludes that the relationship between brain and consciousness may well be a mystery. Still, we can explore. -- Jackson Lears ― London Review of Books
This work is elemental; it touches and hints at some fundamental thoughts at the pivot of our existence and it invites the reader to pursue detailed studies of linguistics, hermeneutics, ethics, and metaphysics. Chomsky often speaks the mind of the readers. -- Editor ― Prabuddha Bharata --This text refers to the hardcover edition.
About the Author
- ASIN : B0181NKZGQ
- Publisher : Columbia University Press (December 15, 2015)
- Publication date : December 15, 2015
- Language : English
- File size : 1446 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 196 pages
- Lending : Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #78,330 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from the United States
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If you are like me you might think of language as it relates to words. In fact, Chomsky seems to have little interest in words themselves and occupies himself with the much broader issues of What is Language? What Can We Understand? and What is the Common Good?, the latter relating very much to the former.
The author defines two types of language. Inner language is the medium of thought. Outer language is the medium for communication. And the latter is of far less significance; an after-thought if you will excuse the tortured but initially unconscious pun.
Ultimately Chomsky uses this distinction to destroy, quite convincingly, the idea that language is a human invention, an artificial convention brought into existence for our efficiency and effectiveness in communication. It is, he argues, quite biological, unique to humans, and only recently introduced when mapped against the grand timeline of evolution. It didn’t, he argues, evolve in some slow methodical way and does not continue to evolve today. It burst forth in some inexplicable leap we now think of as consciousness.
Much of this short but powerful work is devoted to Newton. Or, more precisely, the pre-Newtonian era of science when reality and everything in it was considered to be mechanical, a machine that we could eventually reverse engineer and replicate. And the post-Newtonian era, where reality is know to be “action at a distance” (i.e. gravity, or the “properties of attraction and repulsion”), a world of invisible forces that, in the end, lend themselves better to scientific representation than scientific discovery or explanation.
This inevitably leads to the acceptance, so successfully argued by Chomsky, that there are many mysteries of reality that we will never fully understand. And that’s okay. That doesn’t discredit what we do know so long as we keep an open mind.
Much of what we currently refer to as science, however, is mapping or representation. It is not understanding. It provides a viable theory of reality, but does not expose that reality’s origin or true nature. It promotes an empirical worldview that is valid, but incomplete and overly rigid.
One of the more fascinating revelations of the book is not a revelation at all, but something I hadn’t previously ever considered in all of its glory. That is the fact that language is a system that uses a finite number of elements to create an infinite number of hierarchically structured expressions or outcomes. And an equally mind-boggling truth, the path from finite to infinite cannot be mapped in any sense we can comprehend or communicate as a pattern. There are too many exceptions to every potential rule to be remotely systematic.
In the latter part of the book Chomsky leaps from language to politics. He correctly notes that Adam Smith, as others have likewise pointed out, would be appalled at what we call democracy and free market capitalism today. Smith pointedly noted, although this part of his work appears to have been conveniently lost to history, that the division of labor, while generating great wealth, would ultimately destroy our humanity and inevitably result in a rigid and authoritarian plutocracy. How right he was.
This leads to one of the more informed and enlightened discussions of anarchy that I have ever come across. If you can jettison the indoctrinated vision of anarchy as lawlessness and the irresponsible destruction of property you will see that anarchy describes the America we swear allegiance to but almost never actually act upon; more akin to the belief system of the Quakers than the politicians and capitalists who currently run the show for their own exclusive benefit.
A wonderful book, although not for those who find the language of philosophy too cumbersome to be worth the effort. (Hence the 4 for the audience likely to read this.) There is something quite empowering about accepting the reality of mystery and the knowledge that we will never know everything. I was left with one enduring question, however. Do we know more, or can we know more, internally than we can ever communicate externally? And what kind of creature would that make us and what impact does that have on our society and the institutions that are its foundation?
All in all the book is another Chomsky masterful coverage of the complexities of modern linguistics.
Worth the effort for those not in this field of research and philosophy.
Top reviews from other countries
Some of the paragraphs I had to re-read a few times to understand the point being made.
And there are some brilliant points about how humans have developed.