- Chomsky, Avram Noam
- (1928– )American linguist, philosopher, and political activist. Born in Philadelphia, Chomsky was educated at Pittsburgh under the linguist Zellig Harris, and has taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 1955. His book Syntactic Structures (1957) is widely regarded as the most significant contribution to theoretical linguistics of the second half of the 20th century. Chomsky believes that the speed with which children master their native language cannot be explained by learning theory, but requires acknowledging an innate disposition of the mind, an unlearned, innate, and universal grammar, supplying the kinds of rule that the child will understand to be embodied in examples of speech with which it is confronted. In computational terms, unless the child came bundled with the right kind of software, it could not catch on to the grammar of language as it in fact does. Cartesian Linguistics (1966) makes plain the anti-empiricist, rationalist implications of this idea. Critics such as Ryle complained that the argument pays too little attention to the realities of imitation and practice in the learning process, and seeks to fill the gap only with ‘clouds of biological glory’. Outside linguistics Chomsky was well-known for his opposition to the American war in Vietnam, and was at the time the leading dissident academic critic of the United States government. See also generative grammar, innate ideas.
Philosophy dictionary. Academic. 2011.