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Chapter9 and FromLanguage Problems Knowledge of NoamChomsky

It is interesting to observethe fate of the Cartesianversion of the mind-body problem and the problem of the existence of other minds. The mind-body problem can be posed sensibly only insofar as we have a definite conception of body . If we have no such definite and fixed conception we cannot ask whether some phenomenafall beyond , its range. The Cartesiansoffered a fairly definite conception of body in terms of . their contact mechanicswhich in many respectsreflectscommonsenseunderstanding , Therefore they could sensibly formulate the mind-body problem and the problem of other minds. There was important work attempting to develop the concept of mind further, including studies by British Neoplatonists of the seventeenthcentury that explored the categories and principles of perception and cognition along lines that were later extendedby Kant and that were rediscovered independently intwentieth , , century Gestalt psychology. Another line of development was the " general and philosophical grammar (in our " terms scientific grammar of the seventeenth eighteenth and early nineteenth , , , ) centuries which was much influencedby Cartesianconceptions particularly in the early , , period. Theseinquiriesinto universalgrammarsought to lay bare the generalprinciples . of language Thesewere regardedas not essentiallydifferent Horn the general principles " " of thought, so that languageis a mirror of mind, in the conventional phrase For . various reasons some good some not - these inquiries were disparagedand abandoned , for a century, to be resurrected again independently a generationago, though , , in quite different termsand without recourseto any dualist assumptions . It is also interesting to seehow the Cartesianconception of body and mind entered social thought, most strikingly in the libertarian ideasof JeanJacques Rousseauwhich , were based on strictly Cartesian conceptions of body and mind. Becausehumans , minds, are crucially distinct Horn machines(including animals so Rousseau ), possessing , , argued and becausethe properties of mind crucially surpassmechanicaldeterminacy therefore any infringement on human heedom is illegitimate and must be con&onted and overcome Although the later development of such thinking abandoned the . Cartesianhamework its origins lie in significantmeasure theseclassical in . ideas . The Cartesianconception of a secondsubstance was generally abandonedin later , years but it is important to recognize that it was not the theory of mind that was refuted (one might argue that it was hardly clear enough to be confirmed or refuted). Rather the Cartesianconcept of body was rafuted by seventeenthcentury physics , , in the work of IsaacNewton , which laid the foundations for modem science particularly . Newton demonstrated that the motions of the heavenly bodies could not be ' s , explained by the principles of Descartes contact mechanics so that the Cartesian of body must be abandoned In the Newtonian hamework there is a " force" . concept that one body exerts on another without contact between them, a kind of " action at a , ." distance Whatever this force may be, it does not fall within the Cartesianhamework


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of contact mechanics Newton himself found this conclusion unsatisfying. He sometimes . " " referredto gravitational force as occult and suggestedthat his theory gave only " a mathematicaldescription of events in the physical world , not a true " philosophical " scientific " (in more modern tenninology , ) explanation of these events. Until the late nineteenth century it was still widely held that a true explanation must be framed somehow in mechanicalor quasi mechanicalterms. Others, notably the chemist and Priest , argued that bodies themselvespossess ley philosopherJoseph capacitiesthat go the limits of contact mechanics specifically the property of attracting other , beyond bodies but perhapsfar more. Without pursuing subsequent , developmentsfurther, the conclusionis that the Cartesianconceptof body was found to be untenable . general What is the conceptof body that finally emerged The answeris that there is no clear ? and definite concept of body . If the best theory of the material world that we can constructincludesa variety of forces particlesthat have no mass and other entities that , , " would have been offensive to the " scientificcommon sense of the Cartesiansthen so , be it: We concludethat theseare properties of the physical world , the world of body . The conclusionsare tentative, as befits empirical hypotheses but are not subject to , criticism because transcendsomea priori conception of body . There is no longer they , any definite conception of body . Rather the material world is whatever we discover it to be, with whatever propertiesit must be assumed have for the purposesof explanatory to theory. Any intelligible theory that offers genuine explanationsand that can be assimilatedto the core notions of physics becomespart of the theory of the material world , part of our accountof body . If we have sucha theory in somedomain, we seek to assimilateit to the core notions of physics perhapsmodifying thesenotions as we , . carry out this enterprise In the study of human psychology, if we develop a theory of somecognitive faculty (the languagefaculty, for example and find that this faculty has ) certain properties we seekto discover the mechanisms the brain that exhibit these of , propertiesand to accountfor them in the termsof the physicalsciences keeping open the possibility that the conceptsof the physicalsciences might have to be modified, just as the concepts of Cartesian contact mechanicshad to be modified to account for the motion of the heavenly bodies and as hashappenedrepeatedlyin the evolution of , the natural sciences sinceNewton' s day. In short, there is no definite concept of body . Rather there is a material world , the , of which are to be discovered with no a priori demarcationof what will , properties count as "body ." The mind-body problem can therefore not even be formulated. The problem cannot be solved, becausethere is no clear way to state it. Unless someone proposesa definite concept of body, we cannot ask whether somephenomenaexceed . its bounds Similarly, we cannot pose the problem of other minds. We can and I think , should continue to use mentalistic tenninology, as I have done throughout indiscus, and operationsthat form and modify them in mental computation sing mental representations . But we do not seeourselvesas investigating the properties of some " second substance something crucially distinct from body that interacts with body in some ," mysterious way, perhaps through divine intervention. Rather we are studying the , , propertiesof the material world at a level of abstractionat which we believe rightly or , wrongly , that a genuineexplanatory theory can be constructed a theory that provides that concernus. Thesephenomenain genuineinsight into the nature of the phenomena , fact, are of real intellectual interest not so much in themselvesbut in the avenue that they provide for us to penetrateinto the deeperworkings of the mind. Ultimately, we , hope to assimilatethis study to the mainstreamof the natural sciencesmuch as the study of genesor of valenceand the properties of the chemicalelementswas assimilated to more fundamentalsciencesWe recognize however, that, as in the past, it may . ,

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gt and Problems Knowledge of


turn out that these fundamental sciencesmust be modified or extended to provide foundationsfor the abstracttheoriesof complex systems suchasthe humanmind. , Our task then is to discover genuine explanatory theories and to use these discoveries , , to facilitate inquiry into physical mechanismswith the properties outlined " " in thesetheories Wherever this inquiry leads it will be within the domain of body . . , Or more accurately we simply abandon the whole conception of body as possibly , distinct from somethingelseand usethe methodsof rational inquiry to learnasmuch as we can about the world - what we call the material world , whatever exotic properties it turns out to have. The mind-body problem remainsthe subjectof much controversy, debate and speculation , , and in this regard the problem is still very much alive. But the di ~ ssion seemsto me incoherent in fundamentalrespects Unlike the Cartesians we have no . , definite concept of body . It is therefore quite unclear how we can even ask whether somephenomena beyond the range of the study of body, falling within the separate lie study of mind. ' Recallthe logic of Descartes argument for the existenceof a secondsubstanceres s , " " . , cogitansHaving defined body in terms of contact mechanicshe argued that certain , ; phenomenalie beyond its domain so that somenew principle was required given his must be postulated The logic is essentiallysound it is, . , ; metaphysicsa secondsubstance ' in fact, much like Newton s, when he demonstratedthe inadequacy Cartesiancontact of mechanicsfor the explanation of the motion of the heavenly bodies so that a new . principle, the principle of gravitational attraction, had to be postulated The crucial difference between the Cartesianand the Newtonian enterpriseswas that the latter offered a genuineexplanatory theory of the behavior of bodies whereasthe Cartesian , theory offered no satisfactory account of properties such as the creative aspect of 's languageuse that lie beyond mechanicalexplanation in Descartes view. Therefore 's " scientific common sense of later " Newton conceptionscame to be the generations 's of scientists while Descartes fell by the wayside. ,