Sadly, the video does not include the discussion of both Kant and Chomsky, nor the Chomskian linguistic revolution. Click through for parts 2 and 3.
Kant’s novel answer to the problem of how scientific knowledge is possible (Newton’s Principia), relies partly on David Hume’s assertion that no universal knowledge can be achieved by induction alone, as the video does a good job of explaining.
Here’s a quote from a previous post on this site:
“The problem of how a judgment can be synthetic and a priori, then, presents itself to Kant as the problem of how two concepts, neither of which includes the other, can be connected in a way which does not rest upon past experience and is not vulnerable to future experience.”
Page 23 of ‘Kant’s Analytic‘ by Jonathan Bennett.
Kant realized that Science itself, and its claims to objective universal laws that are good for all time, past present, and future, and for all space (the tiniest particles to apples to the moon to all celestial bodies) were under threat from Hume’s induction problem, and he set out to find a solution. Here’s a good summary from If-Then Knots (which also goes into the Kant/Chomsky connection):
‘Those propositions that we knew independent of any particular fact about the world (a priori) but which also contained new information about the world (synthetic) were synthetic a priori.
How do we know such propositions? On Kant’s account, synthetic a priori statements are derived from the conditions that make experience possible. For example, we know propositions in geometry because they are derived from the conditions that make possible the experience of spatially extended objects. From his account of mathematics as grounded in synthetic a priori statements about space and time, Kant felt that he could put Newtonian mechanics on objective and certain foundations.’
‘…Kant used the transcendental method to derive synthetic a priori propositions, which he argues form the foundation of scientific (ie, objective and certain) judgement. Simple enough, right?’
One consequence of Kant’s view is that knowledge of objective reality is due to some extent on our own onboard apparatus. Reality, or the reality which is knowable, has already conformed to our minds, rather than the other way around. Kant thought his own project may best be used as a negative limit for possible knowledge, including the threat scientific knowledge faces from Hume’s problem of induction. Kant’s views of time and space are complex: (and his thinking has some questionable connections to subsequent developments in mathematics).
Some of this is relevant, in part, to Chomsky’s work:
Chomsky’s Universal Grammar is totally consistent with Kant’s epistemology (although, obviously, Kant never used it as an example, having been dead for 153 years when Chomsky first published his theory):
- The Universal Grammar is a priori.
Unlike his predecessors in the field of linguistics, Chomsky does not join the empiricists in claiming that learning a language is just a matter of imitation. There has to be something in our mind, something innate, that makes the knowledge of any human language possible. In fact, Chomsky has postulated the existence of a language organ in our brain that would come equipped with knowledge of the Universal Grammar. Non-human animals, lacking that language organ, can never become fluent in any human languages.
- Reality conforms to the mind
In the context we are discussing, by “reality” we mean “language”. In the empiricist’s view, the mind is just a passive receptacle of information—if you spoke to a child in any sort of language (English or Arabic, but also a computer language or an alien language) from the moment they are born, then the child would become fully proficient in it. In contrast, in Chomsky’s theory, a human child could never acquire a computer language or an alien language as their first language, since those languages do not conform to the Universal Grammar (FOOTNOTE: An alien language would doubtless conform to some sort of Universal Grammar, but it would be the Alien Universal Grammar, as opposed to the Human Universal Grammar.) So the Universal Grammar makes our knowledge of language possible, but also limits the kinds of languages we can know, just like our a priori of space makes our perception of physical objects possible, but also limits the kinds of objects we can perceive—to, for instance, three-dimensional objects.
So, Chomsky, may something of a Kantian in his revolutionary work on linguistics.
Yet, I was asked if there is any connection between Kantian transcendental idealism and Chomsky’s political philosophy, and I remain doubtful I could provide proof of such a connection.
It has remained confounding to me that Chomsky has clung to a philosophical idealism that serves, at best, as a platform to critique all human organizations relentlessly (especially the U.S. government, and “corporate tyrannies,” military and civil hierarchies but also fascist tyrannies and other oppressive regimes).
Perhaps, after Kant’s moral philosophy, Chomsky believes that we must derive the laws of morality a priori from reason itself, rather than from experience (and Humean habit), thus lending such laws a presumed universality and objectivity. Chomsky seems to hold a rather strong and positive definition of individual liberty, perhaps sharing a space in the social contract tradition which seeks to maintain the consent of the governed (a tradition which includes Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and Kant all of whom approached the problem in different ways). He remains highly skeptical of authority, claims to authority and argues that individuals are best served by anarchy, or anarcho-syndicalism, or some form of libertarian socialism. The burden of proof, on this view, would be upon governments, institutions and groups of individuals to justify interference into the lives of individuals. According to Chomsky, when people do deal with each other (as they must), they ought to do so voluntarily, entering and leaving obligations of their own will as do the leaders of a community council, or perhaps as occurs at a faculty meeting solving problems as they arise (not exactly practicable for most states, nor for the large scale of nation states).
It would be curious to imagine how such a view would respond to Hobbes’ fool, or any threats an individual might pose to any ruling body over him when it is rational for him to do so (a room full of anarchic libertarian socialists may have trouble finding common ground). It is my belief that neither anarchists, nor community councils, nor faculties would maintain legitimate power for long, and the strong, free individual would soon find himself ruled by those who cared not for his positive, generally rights based, definitions of freedom.
Yet, as to the original question, I can’t seem to find satisfactory proof of a connection. Any thoughts and comments are welcome.
Addition: A reader mentions Kropotkin, and points out that some of Chomsky’s thinking harkens to the heady days of the Russian Revolution (Chomsky’s family emigrated from Russia).
Related On This Site: The commenters find no clear argument I’ve made between Kant and Chomsky’s political philosophy: The Politics Of Noam Chomsky-The Dangers Of Kantian Transcendental Idealism?
Martha Nussbaum criticizing Chomsky’s hubris in Martha Nussbaum In Dissent–Violence On The Left: Nandigram And The Communists Of West Bengal
Perhaps Chomsky and Strauss both flirted with Zionism, but they were very different thinkers:…From Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’
Robert Nozick merged elements of Kant and Locke in a strong, libertarian defense of the individual A Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”…From Slate: ‘The Liberty Scam-Why Even Robert Nozick, The Philosophical Father Of Libertarianism, Gave Up On The Movement He Inspired.’