Ejap 02 Cain

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  ABSRACIn this paper I consider some o the most promi-nent philosophical challenges to the viability o Chomskyan linguistics. Te challenges in ques-tion are generated by the work o Quine, Kripke and Crispin Wright. I respond to these challenges by developing an account o rule representation that appeals to the lower level causal workings o a particular component o the mind-brain that plays a undamental role in grounding our linguistic capacities. Tis account draws upon  various elements o Chomsky’s core commit-ments. Tese include his modularity thesis, his  view that the language aculty owes its status as such to its relations to other in-head systems, his general conception o the relationship between the mind and the brain, and his nativist concep-tion o language acquisition. Key words: Chomsky, modularity, representa-tion, nativism, ceteris paribus laws. Introduction Despite its massive influence within linguistics and cognitive science many philosophers have been exercised by the worry that there is something deeply problematic with Chomskyan linguis-tics. 1  In this paper I will examine and attempt to answer what are to mymindmy mindmind three o the most interesting and impor-tant philosophical objections to Chom-sky’s work. Te objections in question are due, respectively, to W.V. Quine, Saul Kripke and Crispin Wright. My response rests upon an account o rule represen-tation that places substantial emphasis on the causal actors underlying our lin-guistic abilities and is motivated by the scientific ambitions o Chomsky’s work, his commitment to the modularity thesis and his nativist conception o language acquisition. 1  Examples o prominent philosophers who have di-rectly taken issue with Chomsky’s core commitments include Putnam 1967, Baker & Hacker 1984, Searle 1990, Dummett 1989, Devitt & Sterelny 1987 and De- vitt 2003. 5 CONFRONING PHILOSOPHICAL OBJECIONS O CHOMSKYAN LINGUISICS MARK J. CAIN Oxord Brookes University EUJAP   VOL. 1   No. 2   2005 ORIGINAL SCIENIFIC PAPER  UDK: 1:81 81󰀭05 Chomsky, N.  1. Quine and Kripke’s objections According to Chomsky rules are central to an individual’s language: when an individual knows a language there are a whole battery o rules that constitute her language, rules that she knows and draws upon in language production and comprehension. 2  Chom-sky characterises the knowledge in question is a species o propositional rather than ability knowledge and it is typically unconscious or tacit (Chomsky 1980). Tere is nothing more to an individual’s language than the rules that she knows. Consequently, in seeking to describe an individual’s language and explain its acquisition, the linguist is engaging in cognitive psychology. 3  For such an engagement in cognitive psychology to have any point there would have to be a act o the matter as to what rules were known by the individual and thus constituted her language. What Quine and Kripke’s argu-ments suggest is that there is no such act o the matter so that Chomsky is searching or acts where there are no acts to be ound. I will examine these arguments in turn beginning with Quine’s. Quine’s argument runs as ollows (Quine 1972). Tere are cases where it makes perect sense to attribute to an individual speaker o a given language knowledge o a particular body o rules (a grammar) and identiy those rules as the ones that she draws upon in language production and comprehension. Consider two groups o Danish children who have learnt English in different ways. Members o the first group have been taught tra-ditional schoolroom grammar which they explicitly consult in constructing sentences o English. Members o the second group have been taught Jesperson’s grammar which they explicitly consult in constructing sentences o English. Tese rival grammars are extensionally equivalent and equally fit the linguistic behaviour and dispositions o all the children. Nevertheless, the first group o children are guided by one grammar con-sisting o a particular body o rules and the second are guided by another grammar consisting o a different body o rules. Hence, it is perectly legitimate to preer one account o the grammar o the first group and a different account o that o the second group. But, argues Quine, in the case o a typical child whose first language is English, there is no such case o being guided by a particular grammar. Such speakers are un-able to state any rules o the language that they speak; at best a particular grammar fits the linguistic behaviour and dispositions o the child. But there will always be distinct grammars that equally fit their linguistic behaviour and dispositions, grammars that 2  With the advent o government and binding theory and the development o the principles and parameters ap-proach rules were replaced by principles in Chomsky’s theorising (Chomsky 1981; Chomsky 1986). Tis is because, or Chomsky, talk o rules carries with it connotations o specificity to particular languages. I knowing a language involved representing rules in this sense then it would be difficult to see how a child could acquire knowledge o her language. Hence, a linguistic theory that talked o rules would not meet the condition o explanatory adequacy, that is, the condition o explaining language acquisition. For the purposes o this paper nothing hangs on this change as principles are a species o rules, namely, rules o great generality that Pinker dubs ‘super rules’ (Pinker 1994). Accord-ingly, unless otherwise indicated, I will use the term ‘rule’ to cover both rules and principles in Chomsky’s narrow sense o those terms. 3  For an early and classic statement o this psychologistic view o linguistics, Chomsky 1965, Ch. 1. 6 EUJAP   Vol. 1   No. 2   2005  are extensionally equivalent. Tere can be no grounds or saying o any one o these grammars that it is the  grammar o the child’s language or that the linguistic theory that attributes this grammar to the child is the  correct theory o the child’s language. I this is right then there are clearly going to be rival accounts o the rules o any individual’s language that are equally legitimate even when all the potentially relevant acts about the individual are known. Consequently, there is no act o the matter as to what par-ticular body o rules belongs to a typical individual’s language, as to what grammar is true o her language.Te second argument is due to Kripke and can be described as ollows (Kripke 1982). Suppose that an individual intends to use the symbol ‘+’ to denote a particular math-ematical unction and so intends her use o this symbol to be governed by a rule cor-responding to that unction. Te rule is such that she should answer any question o the orm ‘what is x + y?’ by speciying the number that is the value o the unction or the arguments x, y. At any point in her history she will have applied this rule only finitely many times. Moreover, being a finite creature, she will be disposed to give answers to only finitely many questions o this orm. Suppose that up to a particular point in time she has always given the sum o x and y in answer to every problem o the orm ‘what is x + y?’ that she has encountered but that none o these problems were such that the  value o either x or y was greater than 56. She then encounters the problem ‘what is 57 + 68?’ and answers ‘125.’ Is that answer correct? Is it in accord with the rule that she intended to ollow in her use o ‘+’? I the rule is the addition rule (that is the rule such that one should give the sum o x and y as the answer) then her answer is correct. But there will be some other rule (the quaddition rule) that equally fits her past behaviour but requires her to give the answer ‘5’ to this new problem. Which o these two rules has she been intending to ollow? Which o them is the rule governing her use o ‘+’? According to Kripke, there is no act o the matter as to whether or not she intended to ollow the addition rule; her past behaviour and conscious mental states are consistent with an intention to ollow this rule but are equally consistent with an intention to ol-low some other rule. Appeal to her dispositions won’t settle the issue. Her dispositions might serve to undermine the claim that she intended to ollow the quaddition rule. But as her dispositions are finite and the demands o rules such as the addition rule are infinite, both the addition rule and some distinct quaddition like rule will equally fit her dispositions.Although Kripke ocuses on a mathematical example, one can easily envisage an ana-logue involving the kinds o rules that Chomsky is concerned with. Suppose that a lin-guist claims that a particular rule is (tacitly or non-consciously) known by a particular language user and so belongs to her language. Given the infinite demands o such rules (that is, given the act that they typically have implications or the grammaticality or otherwise o infinitely many distinct combinations o words o the language to which they belong) i the postulated rule fits the language user’s history o behaviour, her conscious mental states and her dispositions to behave, then so will some other non-  M. J. Cain   Confronting Philosophical Objections to Chomskyan Linguistics 7  equivalent rule. So there can there be no act o the matter as to whether the postulated rule rather than some other competing rule is known by the language user and so be-longs to her language.Chomsky has engaged with both Quine and Kripke suggesting that he takes their argu-ments very seriously indeed. However, I do not think that Chomsky’s responses directly conront the arguments as I have described them. With respect to Quine, his tendency has been to interpret Quine as doing little more than making the point that linguistic theories are underdetermined by observable evidence. Chomsky is willing to concede this point but thinks that this does nothing to undermine linguistics as scientific theo-ries are generally underdetermined in this way. 4  I think that this is to misunderstand Quine’s argument. For, he is not making a point about the epistemic plight o the lin-guist, the point that she does not have conclusive evidence as to which o the competing linguistic theories is true, as to which collection o rules belongs to the language o the target individuals. Rather, his point is that there is no act o the matter as to which o the competing theories is true, as to which collection o rules belongs to the language o the target individuals. Tus, Quine’s argument bears more in common with his thesis o the indeterminacy o radical translation (Quine 1960) than it does with the so called Duhem-Quine thesis (Duhem 1982; Quine 1951). With respect to Kripke, Chomsky’s response ocuses not so much on the argument or rule scepticism but on the attempted sceptical solution to the problem o rule ollow-ing, a solution that places substantial emphasis on the role o the community. 5  Conse-quently a direct response to Quine and Kripke’s objections is needed and in the remain-der o this paper I shall attempt to develop such a response.An important point to be made concerns Chomsky’s talk o knowledge. He requently says that the rules belonging to an individual’s language are items o (propositional) knowledge, albeit unconscious or tacit knowledge. However, in the ace o philosophi-cal objections he is prepared to drop talk o knowledge, or example, by replacing it with talk o cognizing rules. Accordingly, I don’t think that Chomsky need be commit-ted to the claim that we know rules o the kind that he postulates in the sense o the term ‘know’ that philosophers normally operate with. Rather, his commitment is that determinate rules are represented within us where representing a particular rule is a psychological state that can differ in salient respects rom a state o knowledge. 6  Tus, the rules that constitute an individual’s language are represented within her mind but she is not typically conscious o these rules. Consequently, the task becomes that o 4  For example, see Chomsky 2000, Ch 4. 5  See Chomsky 1986, Ch 4. 6  Here is a typical expression o this view: “Evidently, each language is the interplay o two actors: the initial state and the course o experience. We can think o the initial state as a ‘language acquisition device’ that takes experi-ence as input and gives the language as an ‘output’ – an ‘output’ that is internally represented in the mind/brain”, Chomsky 2000, p 4. 8 EUJAP   Vol. 1   No. 2   2005
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