A Chapter in the History of Rationalist Thought
by Noam Chomsky
About The Book
As James McGilvray remarks in his introduction to this new edition of Cartesian Linguistics, the book was largely ignored and indeed denounced when first published in 1966. One likely reason why the first edition was ignored is that it contained many untranslated quotations from French and German authors. For this new edition these passages have all been translated into English. Perhaps the main reason why it was denounced is that Cartesian Linguistics contains, implicitly if not explicitly, trenchant criticisms of empiricist theories about linguistics and the mind. Due largely to Chomsky’s efforts, these are not so dominant now as they were when the first edition appeared in 1966, although they still command the attention of researchers and the public imagination. In his introduction Professor McGilvray focuses on the contrast between rationalist and empiricist approaches to language and the mind. He discusses at length the two most distinctive features of what he calls Chomsky’s “rationalist-romantic” approach: its emphasis on linguistic creativity and its insistence that this creativity can be explained only by assuming that humans are endowed with innate concepts and mental faculties. In the course of the discussion he connects Chomsky’s early treatment of these themes with his later development of them, and with Chomsky’s well-known views on politics and education.
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