• Saphsin
    It’s just really odd to say we can’t refer to the word physical because Newton’s contemporaries once associated the word to mean things in the world worked like wheels and clocks.

    Did we throw away the concept of space and time because they weren’t what Kant imagined or throw away the concept of life because vitalism was abandoned? Do you think the meaning of the words have to be left fixed, that they have to be abandoned if they were initially tied to disproven ideas? The definition of life for instance is a continued debate so it’s not like we’re talking about concepts in science that have settled metaphysics, but no one seems to have a problem with knowing what is referenced anymore than when we talk about changed concepts like physical or causation.

    Anyways the other point being that the reason why they believed physical explanations had to be abandoned because Newton’s contemporaries were convinced we could never understand the mechanisms for Action at a Distance, which they were wrong about. So again who cares how they used these concepts.
  • StreetlightX
    Exactly. As if, out of some misplaced sense of fealty, we owe these dead concepts and dead people an explanation of exactly why their dead concepts are just so dead - on pain of impugning our ability to understand the world. But these things have literally nothing to do with each other, and if the dead are dead then may they stay in their graves without it for one moment being a commentary on our ability to understand the world.

    Materialism is just like anything we more or less understand -- it includes thinking, reasoning, etc. So we can't leave it behind until someone explains what it is. — Chomsky

    I mean what is this nonsense? We can't leave it behind because it "is just like anything we more or less understand"? What is that even supposed to mean? There's no transitivity here. This reads like someone who has invested too much time in studying theology and then insisting that it is now everyone else's problem that his interests are dead.

    For example, as I mentioned, an infant, presented with presentations which indicate that there's some kind of causality -- like when the ball rolls this way a light turns red or something -- they will invent a mechanical cause, and they don't care if it's not visible, because infants understand that most of what goes on is invisible but there's got to be some mechanical cause otherwise there's no way to influence anything else. So that does seem to be the way our minds work, and that tells us something about the limits of our understanding; in fact a classical, crucial case -- and it can go on to other cases — Chomsky

    And what, if we can't square our most advanced concepts of understading to the intellectual standards of literal infants this is supposed to be a comment on our understanding other than the fact that infants are literally the stupidest variety of human on the planet? This is so sloppy and the fact that anyone takes it seriously is insane.
  • Manuel
    Nevermind. I don't want to get into endless debate.

    There's no problem if people disagree, in fact, it's welcomed. Others can build ideas on disagreements.

    I'll be here for anyone who has questions on the essay, or would like clarification or other sources, or would like to talk about any of the other topics raised in this essay, such as Strawson's panpsychism, Priestley's materialism or Descartes, Locke or anything else mentioned.

    Anything Chomsky related, I'd be happy to help, minus the technical linguistic aspects, which are too technical for me.
  • Saphsin
    There's no problem if people disagree, in fact, it's welcomed. Others can build ideas on disagreements.Manuel

    It’s okay, this particular subject is just among the ones where I digress from Chomsky the most. I agree and disagree with him on the wide array of subjects he covers, just like I do with other people.
  • Manuel


    I didn't have you in mind actually. No, of course, I perfectly well understand and respect disagreement with anyone, that's fine. If you aren't challenged, it's harder to learn.

    I like Heidegger (Chomsky doesn't) and think that Chomsky at times uses the example of physics too frequently in other arguments, which I think is unsatisfactory.

    More than anything is the rhetoric that bothers me a bit.

    For instance, I really dislike Dennett's philosophy of mind because I think it is pretty wild. But I say that I don't like Dennett beforehand, and don't usually discuss much of it, because I just get mad and piss other people off.

    On the other hand, when he says interesting things about neuroscience or says something useful about free will, I'll engage.

    It's temperament related, but if I say something is "nonsense" or "idiotic", I usually let go of some of my rationality, because I expect a fiery reply. I reserve those for very specific occasions.
  • StreetlightX
    Chomsky is arguing precisely that "bodies" and "the physical" does not really have a place in today's science.Xtrix

    Right, and from this he wants to draw the conclusion that there are some things in the world that will always escape us. Again, the latter stands as a perfectly reasonable position (that things will always escape us), but movement from A to C simply doesn't follow. If bodies and the physical don't have a place in today's science then they were always insignificant from the beginning other than as conceptual holding-patterns whose time is done. We owe them nothing and they speak to nothing.

    That physical flux was the "least popular" explanation of causality around Leibniz's time is interesting, but I don't see the relevance here.Xtrix

    The point is that these ideas are throughly historical - they had a date of birth and they will have a date of death. The idea that these senses of causality are deeply held eternal metaphysical notions is just rear-guard parochialism. Even if infants develop certain ideas along a relatively stable developmental path, this might speak to nothing other than the fact, of, I dunno, the necessity of avoiding being eaten by lions. Which is, shall we say, a regional issue at best. Or else that infants hew to an incredibly diminished sense of intellection precisely on account of the fact that they are infants.

    Oh come, hop in. I'm allowed to be mean to Chomsky he's not here.
  • Manuel


    I think Xtrix will have a good time arguing with you.

    I think you and I disagree on many, many things including most of philosophy and politics. Also in ways of expressing our opinions, I try to be a bit less intense. Not always. Doesn't make me better or worse, just a style.

    That just makes the world go round.

    I'm having a Dudeism vibe now, and I like it. By all means, fire away, I'll be having a metaphysical White Russian and chill.

  • SophistiCat
    I've read the rest of the essay, and frankly I am still not sure what to think of it. That is, the impression that I got after reading about a third of it is still the same: these look like notes on things that Chomsky has read, written down without any plan, flow-of-consciousness style. The themes that he mainly deals with are: (1) 18th century natural philosophers and their struggles with reconceptualizing the physical world in light of Newtonian physics; (2) the mind-body problem as though of by those 18th century philosophers, especially Priestly, plus a few later philosophers, mainly Russell, Strawson Jr. and Stoljar in the end, with some notes of his own concerning language.

    The essay is by no means a survey of the themes that it touches on. Compare, for instance, Chomsky's notes on physicalism with Stoljar's SEP article on the same: you will find the latter far more comprehensive and objective. Nor did I find much in the way of an original insight. Chomsky indicates where his sympathies lie: reductive physicalism, monism, opposing Strawson panpsychism and endorsing Stoljar's physicalism, but doesn't add much of his own. I couldn't make much of the brief note on language tucked in at the end, but that's because I have no familiarity with linguistics and Chomsky's work.

    Where I encountered difficulty (other than the brief discussion of language) was in the end, in notes on Stoljar, but this could be best remedied by reading Stoljar himself.
  • bongo fury
    Chomsky's not very hidden agenda: innate ideas.

    The innate part is no trouble to his philosophical conscience, but the ideas part does seem to have been keeping him up. Innate brain shivers, no problem. I presume.
  • StreetlightX
    Yep. Buried in among the thirty pages of warbling is an apologia for his effective creationism about language. One suspects all the rest is just so much superstructure to excuse those few lines.
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