Language and Philosophy

Osiatynski: You represent an anthropological approach to linguistics. Do you think that linguistics can contribute to the understanding of the philosophical problems of human nature and culture?

Chomsky: My feeling is that a human being or any complex organism has a system of cognitive structures that develop much in the way the physical organs of the body develop. That is, in their fundamental character they are innate; their basic form is determined by the genetic structure of the organism. Of course, they grow under particular environmental conditions, assuming a specific form that admits of some variation. Much of what is distinctive among human beings is a specific manner in which a variety of shared cognitive structures develop.

Perhaps the most intricate of these structures is language. In studying language we can discover many basic properties of this cognitive structure, its organization, and also the genetic predispositions that provide the foundation for its development.

So in this respect, linguistics, first of all, tries to characterize a major feature of human cognitive organization. And second, I think it may provide a suggestive model for the study of other cognitive systems. And the collection of these systems is one aspect of human nature.

– Wiktor Osiatynski (ed.), Contrasts: Soviet and American Thinkers Discuss the Future (MacMillan, 1984), pp. 95-101

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