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The Chomsky-Foucault Debate: On Human Nature Paperback – September 1, 2006
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Top Customer Reviews
The book, as its title suggests, is notionally centered on the 1971 Dutch Television debate between Chomsky and Foucault moderated by Edlers on the question of whether or not there such a thing as an "innate" human nature. While the `debate' is largely an exercise in the two protagonists talking past each other; it is nonetheless an interesting small episode in contemporary intellectual history. The video and transcript have been available on-line for years. Had the remainder of the text been post-debate reflections or new analysis of the issues raised in the discussion the text could have been quite interesting. Sadly, this is not the case.
The remaining four essays are transcripts of interviews and presentations by Foucault and Chomsky on other subjects - Chomsky does offer a few small asides on the debate at the end of one interview. The two chapters on Chomsky are transcripts of 1976 interviews with Ronat. `The Philosophy of Language' is a collection of Chomsky's musings on the modern intellectual project while `Politics' provides a feel for his well known political views which range from insightful reflections on the nature and function of societal power structures to his more fringe conspiracy-type views. While interesting small pieces they have been previously published and have only a tenuous link to the earlier debate.Read more ›
There has to be a winner in a debate--or, better said, a more plausible line of argument, since eternal questions aren't likely to be answered decisively in a debate, even if two geniuses are the participants.
No question that Foucault's argument is the more plausible in this case.
Chomsky argues from his theory of "generative grammar" that there's an innate structure in the human mind which allows children to develop (should I say, generate?) complex verbal structures from their basic--and limited--experience of language. He claims this can't be explained in behavorist terms (essentially, the trial-and-error method) and given this "schemetization" and our experience of history, it's reasonable to assume that there are others, ergo we can postulate that "human nature" in innate, even if we don't as yet understand its complex structure and the precise way it functions.
Foucault argues that Chomsky's conception is indefensible, because what occurs in history determines the way we define "human nature". Our vision of what it means to be human changes over time, being the creation of various forces we can't define clearly, as, for example, when we consider the way the "climate of opinion" in medicine was transformed over a period of 40 years in the 19th century.
The decisive point in the debate occurs when Foucault asks whether the revolution Chomsky hopes for is the result of a desire for social justice or more accurately a desire by the oppressed to seize power.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book is quite interesting in the sense that the two clashing ideas are from different schools of thought in sociology. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Mary Godsey
Enjoyable. Well written. Thought provoking. I had trouble following one of the chapters: one of the essays by Foucault, I think it was entitled "Truth and Power". Read morePublished 8 months ago by R. Cardona
This is one of those very rare instance in which we get two great philosophers of the two main traditions in philosophy, Chomsky on the "analytic" side and Foucault on the... Read morePublished 10 months ago by Manuel Armenteros
I enjoyed the debate between Foucault and Chomsky the best. The rest of the book was good but not greT.Published 14 months ago by Brad
A wonderfully illuminating discussion between two great thinkers of the latter half of the the twentieth century. Read morePublished on June 4, 2011 by J. James