Contrary to Chomsky’s expressed opinion, Continental Philosophy can be explained in terms comprehensible to a 12-year-old. The idea that it cannot is an empirical claim and we are fortunate to have a falsifyng instance. In this video Douglas Lain explains Zizek’s theory of ideology to his daughter (I am not sure of her age in the video, but it must be close to the age-group intended by Chomsky):

and here he explains Althusser’s concept of the Ideological State Apparatus to her:

In these videos we see that Zizek can be explained in simple terms, and that the theory goes beyond this explanation: Chomsky’s challenge was to demonstrate that Zizek ‘s theories went « beyond the level of something you can explain in five minutes to a twelve-year-old ». The first video lasts 5 minutes, and while the explanation is good, it is clear that Lain is far from finished at the end.

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  2. Mario Savioni dit :

    Yea baby! I think you made the point quite clearly. It is good to know there are others out there who side with Zizek. If E=Mc2 can be explained, so can Zizek. Still, every scientific paradigm gets modified or replaced in time. Why this need by these guys to attack someone else’s thinking? Silly, it is and the beginning of my doubting them. It just shows the ego and the need to be on top, where everyone is really saying something marvelous and therefore valuable, and not mutually exclusive.


  3. terenceblake dit :

    I think that the problem goes beyond mimetic rivalry and ego clash. In your blog posts you cite Kuhn on paradigms, and I think that this is crucial. Chomsky’s avowed empiricism is pre-Kuhnian, he does not see that not only is science traversed by different paradigms but so is philosophy shaped by different paradigms of thought. Chomsky seems to think that there is something « scientific » about his work even when he is not doing linguistics – such is the grip of his image of thought that he classes other ways of thinking as empty posturing.


  4. Kai dit :

    This is a bit of a joke in my opinion. The Althussian notion of interpellation is one of the easiest in Continental Philosophy to understand. It is frequently indirectly referenced in cartoons like The Simpsons, Bojack Horseman, Jeff and Some Aliens etc. That’s largely becuase the concept is cogent. Try doing waffle-master cult leader and charlatan extrodinaire Lacan. Explain the transcendental signifier of the phallus and I’ll be impressed.

    The idea that Chomsky ignores or is unaware of Kuhn is a little presumptuous. He’s not unaware, and i would hazard a guess he thinks it’s obvious that paradigms change, particularly as he is responsible for one in the fields of linguistics and cognitive science. With regards to « every scientific paradigm gets modified » …this is exactly Chomsky’s point. That that statement is not universally true. Schools of thought do mutate (dualism, positivism, evolution etc), but aspects of the scientific paradigm don’t. Rationality, for example has served science/engineering/solving problems etc since the dawn of time, the testing of hypothese to gather evidence similarly so. While these were formalised later into the paradigm of the Baconian scientific method, more or less the same paradigm has survived in most cultures to some degree all the way back through evolutionary time. The logical faculties of the brain are not a relativistic paradigm, they are innate, and are hardwired into the pre-frontal cortex; part of every person’s in-built thinking apparatus, part of the development of theory of mind (think Piaget) that every child undergoes. That’s not a paradigm that gets modified (or perhaps it does modify, but on an evolutionary scale). Chomsky also applies this to Language (LAD and Universal Grammer), as well as morality (see debate with Foucault). This is the general point Chomsky makes as a forerunner of the cognitive sciences. He argues against the blank slate ie. the Lockean tabula rasa.

    Chomsky isn’t even that much of a empiricist, he’s a rationalist and often sides with neo-pragmatism. Almost all his work in Linguistics was derives from rationality and skepticism of behaviourism, not from gathering evidence. That’s precisely what pissed off BF Skinner, who was a massive empiricist, meticulously measuring and gathering data with vast numbers of animals, and then this jumped up kid comes and proves him wrong without collective evidence at all, it was simply self-evident, plus a bit of logic (language can’t be acquired through mimicking and reinforcement because there are simply too many words in most languages for this to be achieved in the time frame of a child’s linguistic development and they are able to make up their own composites that were never reinforced. See Poverty of Stimulus). He has written on this extensively in his philosophical work and goes into some detail in the , which are pretty good (below)

    This predilection for pragmatism is probably why he disregards these thinkers. He does not see the benefit of packaging the information like this. He also has a personal gripe when it comes to intention, namely that the french intelligensia, at least at the time, were treated as celebrities and so were under pressure to come up with new stuff all the time, which put pressure on them to churn out deep sounding stuff. Most people simply aren’t capable of that. You have a few big original ideas and the rest is commentary. Foucault (at least accordingly to Searle), openly admitted that this was the case, expected even, in those circles. This is pretty elitist and in opposition to (he usually uses the examples of a carpenter or skilled labourer, i’ve not heard the « 12 year old » statement before).

    While I personally have a preference for clear prose because I think obscurantism is an elitist ruse favoured by charlatans and pretentious culty types, I disagree with Chomsky to some degree here in that I think there is a pragmatic reason for keeping bad and far-out but possibly wrong ideas around because in the same way that biodiversity is more sustainable than monocropping, it’s good to have a certain amount of BS just to keep it spicy. That said, I’ve never heard Chomsky saying they shouldn’t exist, just that he personally thinks it’s balloney (or at the least, rehashing Englightenment ideas but dressing them up as new and edgy)


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