Scholarship and Politics: The Case of Noam Chomsky

The New York Times has the article Scholarship and Politics: The Case of Noam Chomsky by Stanley Fish.

I was enchanted, even ravished, by these lectures, not because I agreed with the positions they staked out, but because of the spectacle they presented of an intelligence exercising itself on a set of significant philosophical questions. It was thought of the highest order performed by a thinker, now 85 years old, who by and large eschewed rhetorical flourishes (he has called his own speaking style “boring” and says he likes it that way) and just did it, where ‘it” was the patient exploration of deep issues that had been explored before him by a succession of predecessors, fully acknowledged, in a conversation that is forever being continued and forever being replenished.

After finishing the article, I thought of it as a beautifully written tribute to the pursuit of academic thought. Even as I read it, I was taken aback by the statement in the article:

“…since language is thought rather than an addition to or clothing of thought, the limits of language are the limits of what we can fruitfully think about.”

So my question is, “Do non-human animals think?”  If so, how do they think, since they have no language to express their thoughts?  Do human babies think before they have language?  How do they acquire language without thinking?

When you see videos of an octopus figuring out how to unscrew the lid of a bottle, do you suppose the octopus is thinking (without language)?

Have you ever watched a squirrel try to get seed out of a bird feeder.  They have some mighty creative ways of approaching the problem after many failed attempts.  What are they thinking as they try different approaches?

I see that some of the other comments on the article mirror some of my questions.

Now I think the article reminds me of how easy it is to be lulled into a state of hypnosis by beautifully crafted words.  Perhaps this is what has troubled me about Naom Chomsky over the years.  Sometimes, i just don’t want to believe what he is saying politically.  Lately, I have been thinking my distrust was unwarranted.  What he has been saying has proven to be right more often than I imagined possible.  Or is it that I am just being hypnotized?

As I said to Sharon after reading the chapter on propaganda in the book Death of the Liberal Class by Chris Hedges, you really don’t know who to trust anymore.  I am not even sure I trust myself.

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