Published on Jun 1, 2012
Avram Noam Chomsky (born December 7, 1928) is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, and activist. He is an Institute Professor and Professor (Emeritus) in the Department of Linguistics & Philosophy at MIT, where he has worked for over 50 years. Chomsky has been described as the “father of modern linguistics” and a major figure of analytic philosophy. His work has influenced fields such as computer science, mathematics, and psychology.
Ideologically identifying with anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism, Chomsky is known for his critiques of U.S. foreign policy and contemporary capitalism, and he has been described as a prominent cultural figure. His media criticism has included Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988), co-written with Edward S. Herman, an analysis articulating the propaganda model theory for examining the media.
According to the Arts and Humanities Citation Index in 1992, Chomsky was cited as a source more often than any other living scholar from 1980 to 1992, and was the eighth most cited source overall. Chomsky is the author of over 100 books. He is credited as the creator or co-creator of the Chomsky hierarchy, the universal grammar theory, and the Chomsky–Schützenberger theorem.
Chomsky sees science as a straightforward search for explanation, and rejects the views of it as a catalog of facts or mechanical explanations. In this light, the majority of his contributions to science have been frameworks and hypotheses, rather than “discoveries.”
As such, he considers certain so-called post-structuralist or postmodern critiques of logic and reason to be nonsensical: I have spent a lot of my life working on questions such as these, using the only methods I know of; those condemned here as “science”, “rationality,” “logic,” and so on. I therefore read the papers with some hope that they would help me “transcend” these limitations, or perhaps suggest an entirely different course. I’m afraid I was disappointed. Admittedly, that may be my own limitation. Quite regularly, “my eyes glaze over” when I read polysyllabic discourse on the themes of poststructuralism and postmodernism; what I understand is largely truism or error, but that is only a fraction of the total word count. True, there are lots of other things I don’t understand: the articles in the current issues of math and physics journals, for example. But there is a difference. In the latter case, I know how to get to understand them, and have done so, in cases of particular interest to me; and I also know that people in these fields can explain the contents to me at my level, so that I can gain what (partial) understanding I may want. In contrast, no one seems to be able to explain to me why the latest post-this-and-that is (for the most part) other than truism, error, or gibberish, and I do not know how to proceed.
Although Chomsky believes that a scientific background is important to teach proper reasoning, he holds that science in general is “inadequate” to understand complicated problems like human affairs: Science talks about very simple things, and asks hard questions about them. As soon as things become too complex, science can’t deal with them… But it’s a complicated matter: Science studies what’s at the edge of understanding, and what’s at the edge of understanding is usually fairly simple. And it rarely reaches human affairs. Human affairs are way too complicated.