Published on Nov 10, 2016
Avram Noam Chomsky (born December 7, 1928) is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, logician, political commentator and activist.
Sometimes described as the “father of modern linguistics”, Chomsky is also a major figure in analytic philosophy. He has spent most of his career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he is currently Professor Emeritus, and has authored over 100 books. He has been described as a prominent cultural figure, and was voted the “world’s top public intellectual” in a 2005 poll.
Born to a middle-class Ashkenazi Jewish family in Philadelphia, Chomsky developed an early interest in anarchism from relatives in New York City. He later undertook studies in linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, where he obtained his BA, MA, and PhD, while from 1951 to 1955 he was appointed to Harvard University’s Society of Fellows. In 1955 he began work at MIT, soon becoming a significant figure in the field of linguistics for his publications and lectures on the subject. He is credited as the creator or co-creator of the Chomsky hierarchy, the universal grammar theory, and the Chomsky–Schützenberger theorem. In 1967 he gained public attention for his vocal opposition to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, in part through his essay The Responsibility of Intellectuals, and came to be associated with the New Left while being arrested on multiple occasions for his anti-war activism. While expanding his work in linguistics over subsequent decades, he also developed the propaganda model of media criticism with Edward S. Herman. Following his retirement from active teaching, he has continued his vocal public activism, praising the Occupy movement.
Chomsky has been a highly influential academic figure throughout his career, and was cited within the field of Arts and Humanities more often than any other living scholar between 1980 and 1992. He was also the eighth most cited scholar overall within the Arts and Humanities Citation Index during the same period. His work has influenced fields such as artificial intelligence, cognitive science, computer science, logic, mathematics, music theory and analysis, political science, programming language theory and psychology. Chomsky continues to be well known as a political activist, and a leading critic of U.S. foreign policy, state capitalism, and the mainstream news media. Ideologically, he aligns himself with anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism.
Chomsky has been known to defend vigorously and debate his views and opinions, in philosophy, linguistics (Linguistics Wars), and politics. He has had notable debates with Jean Piaget, Michel Foucault, William F. Buckley, Jr., Christopher Hitchens, George Lakoff, Richard Perle, Hilary Putnam, Willard Quine, John Maynard Smith, and Alan Dershowitz, to name a few. The Guardian said of Chomsky’s debating ability, “His boldness and clarity infuriates opponents—academe is crowded with critics who have made twerps of themselves taking him on.” In response to his speaking style being criticized as boring, Chomsky said, “I’m a boring speaker and I like it that way. … I doubt that people are attracted to whatever the persona is. … People are interested in the issues, and they’re interested in the issues because they are important.” “We don’t want to be swayed by superficial eloquence, by emotion and so on.”