Pierre Jacob (Institut Jean Nicod/CEU)

The scope and limits of Chomsky’s naturalism  



What is the difference between methodological naturalism, to which Chomsky subscribes, and metaphysical naturalism, which Chomsky rejects? I will address this question by means of a slightly different question. Half a century ago, Chomsky’s work in linguistics laid the foundations for computational models of the human language faculty. One might have expected Chomsky to take the success of computational models in linguistics as a vindication of physicalism along the following lines. If mental processes are computational processes, and if computational processes are in turn operations that can be carried out by a machine (built according to the laws of physics), then computational models of a human cognitive capacity show that a machine obeying the laws of physics can carry out operations characteristic of some fundamental human cognitive competence. This is, however, Fodor’s interpretation of the success of computational models of the human language faculty, not Chomsky’s. The question is: why does not Chomsky travel this route?