Noam Chomsky and Cartesian Linguistics

  • John J. Sullivan
Part of the Studies in Applied Psycholinguistics book series (SAP)


Both Descartes and Chomsky share a magnificent set of talents, one of which is the capacity for strong statements of opinions counter to contemporary scientific and philosophical paradigms. The result is that both had a talent for being embroiled in controversies. Throughout his life Descartes was dogged with controversies (see Appendix) and thirteen years after his death the Congregation de l’Index (on November 20, 1663) condemned his Meditations. Similarly, Chomsky has a flair for polemics, and his Cartesian Linguistics has precipitated a mild controversy about the facts and interpretations of seventeenth-century philosophy, linguistics, and by implication, cognitive psychology in the general rationalistic and empiricistic traditions. The opening quotations indicate the basic Chomsky interpretation of Cartesian linguistics, a strong negative reaction by Hans Aarsleff, a moderating comment by Father John W. M. Verhaar, and my general evaluation of the issues involved.


Physical Object Innate Idea Ontological Assumption Ontological Position Universal Instrument 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • John J. Sullivan
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.New York UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.University of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA

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