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Two of the twentieth century's most influential thinkers debate a perennial question. In 1971, at the height of the Vietnam War and at a time of great political and social instability, two of the world's leading intellectuals, Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault, were invited by Dutch philosopher Fons Edlers to debate an age-old question: is there such a thing as "innate" hum Two of the twentieth century's most influential thinkers debate a perennial question. In 1971, at the height of the Vietnam War and at a time of great political and social instability, two of the world's leading intellectuals, Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault, were invited by Dutch philosopher Fons Edlers to debate an age-old question: is there such a thing as "innate" human nature independent of our experiences and external influences? The resulting dialogue is one of the most original, provocative, and spontaneous exchanges to have occurred between contemporary philosophers, and above all serves as a concise introduction to their basic theories. What begins as a philosophical argument rooted in linguistics (Chomsky) and the theory of knowledge (Foucault), soon evolves into a broader discussion encompassing a wide range of topics, from science, history, and behaviorism to creativity, freedom, and the struggle for justice in the realm of politics. In addition to the debate itself, this volume features a newly written introduction by noted Foucault scholar John Rajchman and includes additional text by Noam Chomsky.


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Two of the twentieth century's most influential thinkers debate a perennial question. In 1971, at the height of the Vietnam War and at a time of great political and social instability, two of the world's leading intellectuals, Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault, were invited by Dutch philosopher Fons Edlers to debate an age-old question: is there such a thing as "innate" hum Two of the twentieth century's most influential thinkers debate a perennial question. In 1971, at the height of the Vietnam War and at a time of great political and social instability, two of the world's leading intellectuals, Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault, were invited by Dutch philosopher Fons Edlers to debate an age-old question: is there such a thing as "innate" human nature independent of our experiences and external influences? The resulting dialogue is one of the most original, provocative, and spontaneous exchanges to have occurred between contemporary philosophers, and above all serves as a concise introduction to their basic theories. What begins as a philosophical argument rooted in linguistics (Chomsky) and the theory of knowledge (Foucault), soon evolves into a broader discussion encompassing a wide range of topics, from science, history, and behaviorism to creativity, freedom, and the struggle for justice in the realm of politics. In addition to the debate itself, this volume features a newly written introduction by noted Foucault scholar John Rajchman and includes additional text by Noam Chomsky.

30 review for The Chomsky-Foucault Debate: On Human Nature

  1. 4 out of 5

    Trevor

    I haven't finished this book and probably will not get a chance to read the other essays in it for a while now. All the same, the transcript of the debate (if you could really call it that) between Foucault and Chomsky is interesting for a number of reasons. The first is that Foucault doesn't really get going at all and this is due to the problems of the medium. Television seems like it really ought to be quite an impressive medium - whereas it is a really pathetic waste of time. My favourite pa I haven't finished this book and probably will not get a chance to read the other essays in it for a while now. All the same, the transcript of the debate (if you could really call it that) between Foucault and Chomsky is interesting for a number of reasons. The first is that Foucault doesn't really get going at all and this is due to the problems of the medium. Television seems like it really ought to be quite an impressive medium - whereas it is a really pathetic waste of time. My favourite part is where Foucault asks the presenter if he will have time to respond and the presenter says there will be lots of time, so Foucault asks how much time is lots of time and the presenter answers two minutes. The text says, "Foucault laughs" - I reckon, despite my not knowing any French at all - that even I would be able to interpret that laugh into English. I suspect the adverb that would go after it wouldn't be he laughed heartily or jovially. I suspect one would have to say, Foucault laughed with ironic resignation. Certainly he would not have used the standard "haw, haw, haw, mon ami" of which the French are rightly famous. Where this book is particularly interesting is in relation to Chomsky. For years I've struggled to understand the relationship between Chomsky's linguistics and his political ideas. I am hardly the first person to wonder about this. Pinker mentions it in one of this books on how the mind works - and more or less says it is surprising that someone who has contributed so much to our understanding of linguistics can have such nutty political views. Now, that's exactly what I would expect someone to think who believes that the nature / nurture debate has been settled in favour of nature. Chomsky's linguistics is based on the idea that our biology is key. He believes this on the basis that the poverty of instruction children receive ought to mean it would be impossible for them to learn language at all. This view has been undermined by much of the work that has been done by the sociolinguists such as Halliday, but I've discussed that in other reviews. The point is that Chomsky's genetic determinism has always struck me as being in contradiction to his political views. Put simply - if something so basic as language is genetically determined, then it doesn't seem such a stretch to also believe that our political institutions and systems are manifestations of this basic 'human nature'. If that is the case then it would seem odd to talk of social change and to complain about these institutions. What is, it would seem, is human nature made social and so Chomsky's complaints about society have always seemed to me in opposition to the biological determinism implied in his linguistics. But this is where this text is interesting. To quote Chomsky: "I think it is too hasty to characterize our existing systems of justice as merely systems of class oppression." And why? Well, as I've said, they must be manifestation of a deeper human nature Chomsky believes this human nature is fundamentally just in its character. The problem is that this fundamental human nature has been perverted by powerful institutions - so the corrective is to find means to allow these innate human preferences for justice to gain the upper hand. This is criticised by Foucault, who sees these issues not at all based on fundamental and innate human characteristics, but rather on the basis of socially defined power relationships that create the cultural discourse of any particular moment. As he replies: "I would like to reply to you in terms of Spinoza and say that the proletariat doesn't wage war against the ruling class because it considers such a war to be just. The proletariat makes war with the ruling class because, for the first time in history, it wants to take power." Chomsky immediately disagrees. The point is that humans are innately disposed to justice and the task is not to overthrow and recreate more just systems - but rather to allow the current (eternal?) human tendencies towards justice a chance to flourish. As he says: "I think we're safer in hoping for progress on the basis of those human instincts than on the basis of the institutions of centralised power, which, I believe, will almost inevitably act in the interests of their powerful components." I suspect Chomsky's innate view of human nature may well be part of the reason he often leaves me feeling somewhat helpless after reading him. It may be that believing, as he does, that a tendency toward social justice is innate implies that exposing the excesses of power to people should outrage their sense of justice and thus motivate them to action. But I tend to think the opposite happens and people feel so overwhelmed that all hope evaporates. I have learnt much from Chomsky over the years, but I do not agree with his innate and biologically driven linguistics and I don't subscribe to his innate and biologically driven notions of justice either. I think human culture is much more complicated than can be explained away by our biology and that the patterns that are discernible on the social scale are not exhausted by reference to our biology. I much prefer Foucault's view that one must analyse social power to make sense of social institutions. So, reading this - even only the first part of this book - has answered a long-standing problem I have had with Chomsky. For that alone it has proven a worthwhile read.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    As it turns out the two titans had a televised discussion in Sweden in 1971. That's some pretty esoteric TV. The transcript is an intellectual snack -- like a philosophy pizza bagel -- that looks great on the box but turned out kind of mushy in the microwave. Both Chomsky and Foucault are illuminating writers: you can jump into one of their books and feel like you're super smart and you're finally getting all the answers. For this reason both have given me fits of adulation at various times. So f As it turns out the two titans had a televised discussion in Sweden in 1971. That's some pretty esoteric TV. The transcript is an intellectual snack -- like a philosophy pizza bagel -- that looks great on the box but turned out kind of mushy in the microwave. Both Chomsky and Foucault are illuminating writers: you can jump into one of their books and feel like you're super smart and you're finally getting all the answers. For this reason both have given me fits of adulation at various times. So for me it would be bordering on the sublime to see them duke it out verbally. A perfect after school snack. But alas, they didn't really delve deep into questions where they disagree (linguistics, the nature of power, the goal of social revolution, etc.) as much as politely touch upon them and move along. I think this because they wouldn't have known where to start a debate, since they come from totally different places. Big C is a "libertarian" writing in the Anglo-American liberal tradition, so he likes to jones about individual freedom and knowledge and creativity in the face of the repressive state. Foucault is a (post)structuralist Frenchman, so he's trying to get away from "the subject" altogether and start thinking about discursive structures instead. For example at one point it becomes clear that while C is striving towards Justice with a big J, F would rather concentrate on teasing out the power relations behind "justice." There's not much overlap there -- or rather, it would take a very nutritious home cooked intellectual history meal to get at it, and who's in the mood for that?

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    A pretty good window into the thought of Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault. I'm not sure this volume would stand alone very well, but it certainly clarifies the work of each by showing them in contrast, and thus makes a great companion to each man's writings. This the is the transcript of a debate held by Dutch television in 1971, in which Chomsky (speaking in English) and Foucault (in French) responded to the questions posted by moderator Fons Elders regarding human nature and political justice. A pretty good window into the thought of Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault. I'm not sure this volume would stand alone very well, but it certainly clarifies the work of each by showing them in contrast, and thus makes a great companion to each man's writings. This the is the transcript of a debate held by Dutch television in 1971, in which Chomsky (speaking in English) and Foucault (in French) responded to the questions posted by moderator Fons Elders regarding human nature and political justice. Loosely speaking, Chomsky argued that there is such a thing as a universal human nature and an ideal of justice that transcends self-interest; Foucault argued that human thought is the result of its cultural context and that political activity is an expression of collective self-interest. (To speak much too broadly, they were debating whether human experience is defined by nature or nurture.) In fact, however, the two men stood in agreement on most crucial points, and most differences between them were differences in emphasis. Chomsky's key contention was that human language and human scientific "creativity" (i.e., the generation of scientific hypotheses, experiments, and theories) require a certain inborn set of mental dispositions. There is something human brains have in common at birth that make it possible for us to make sense of (and in) the world. It is natural for us to construct workable scientific theories, and it is natural for us to acquire languages very quickly as children based on minimal exposure, because the brain is organized to perceive and comprehend certain kinds of patterns. What we do not do, Chomsky argued, is encounter the natural world, or the sentences constructed by older people, as blank slates, open to all possible patterns. We do not simply receive information passively as it arrives; we file it in mysterious preset categories. Therefore, there is such a thing as "human nature"; there are predispositions in the human mind that are universal to the species. Foucault, on the other hand, emphasized a different aspect of scientific "creativity" -- the generation of strikingly new systems of thought -- only to downplay its significance. The achievements of a Newton or an Einstein, he said, were not so much the result of individual brilliance as the manifestation of preexisting social tendencies. Scientific creativity in this sense, therefore, is not as liberating as it is often portrayed as being; it is an outgrowth of, and is constrained by, the same larger forces it supposedly challenges. To some extent, therefore, Chomsky and Foucault were not debating the existence of human nature but rather arguing that different aspects of it are salient. They frequently agreed with each other. When the conversation turned to the question of political justice, however, two key points of disagreement emerged. Both Chomsky and Foucault, of course, identified strongly with the Left, albeit in idiosyncratic ways. In practical terms, Chomsky spoke as an anarcho-syndicalist, advocating class-conscious resistance to the concentrated power of governments and property owners. Foucault took arguably a more cynical position, suggesting that there is no means of escaping from power. The role of an intellectual, instead, is to point out how power operates in order to allow the desired class to appropriate it. In moral terms, accordingly, Chomsky argued that the role of an intellectual is to speak for justice -- for this is what all legitimate political movements seek. Foucault countered that all political movements seek is politics itself -- that is, the members of an oppressed class take to the streets not in order to achieve justice but rather to become society's rulers themselves. This proposition clearly disturbed Chomsky.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Maddy

    There are some interesting points of view. With some of them I can agree, with some of them I disagree. The debate itself didn't really feel like a debate at all. And it is definitely noticeable that at least one of them [participants] is a linguist in that way of quoting and mentioning references that would not mean anything to someone who is not part of this field, while saying much without saying anything at all. And I still believe that title is misleading in a way that this book provides a There are some interesting points of view. With some of them I can agree, with some of them I disagree. The debate itself didn't really feel like a debate at all. And it is definitely noticeable that at least one of them [participants] is a linguist in that way of quoting and mentioning references that would not mean anything to someone who is not part of this field, while saying much without saying anything at all. And I still believe that title is misleading in a way that this book provides a very narrow perspective on human nature, only in a sense of the creativity and intelligence, mostly arguing two opposing opinions - creativity determines intelligence, or intelligence determines the level of creativity. While hypothesis was introduced eventually, the first part of the debate was nonsensical and very narrow-minded, considering that "creativity" was mostly discussed in connection with scientific discoveries and development of scientific theories. The second part of debate about the power and politics was better and made more sense. However, it still felt somewhat disconnected from the long narrations of the first part about creativity. The continued essays are a nice addition, yet quite redundant, considering how they cover already discussed issues in greater details and with new references to other researchers, which again, do not mean anything to someone not involved in the field. Which makes it ironic how the author insists on intelligence available to everyone, granting them the right of expressing their opinion regardless of their credentials on the matter, not just the intelligentsia, yet keeps quoting and unquoting a bunch of the members of this "intelligentsia" as points of references. Interesting book of course, but not overly so.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Muath Aziz

    I watched the one hour debate on Youtube and read few papers analyzing and arguing about the two thinkers' opinions. It's an interesting debate. I think Chomsky has a point, but that Foucault understands Chomsky more than Chomsky understanding him. For me, Foucault wins philosophically, but he gets us nowhere. At least Chomsky is more practical for our current societies. I watched the one hour debate on Youtube and read few papers analyzing and arguing about the two thinkers' opinions. It's an interesting debate. I think Chomsky has a point, but that Foucault understands Chomsky more than Chomsky understanding him. For me, Foucault wins philosophically, but he gets us nowhere. At least Chomsky is more practical for our current societies.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mr.

    It is now widely conceded among post-modern/post-structuralist circles that Foucault broke the back of linguist-political scientist Noam Chomsky in this televised debate on Dutch television. Perhaps this conception further contributed to Chomksy's disdain with the French intellectual community entire in subsequent years. Nevertheless, regardless of one's political/philosophical disposition, this is an endlessly fascinating debate, between two thinkers working as "tunnellers through a mountain wo It is now widely conceded among post-modern/post-structuralist circles that Foucault broke the back of linguist-political scientist Noam Chomsky in this televised debate on Dutch television. Perhaps this conception further contributed to Chomksy's disdain with the French intellectual community entire in subsequent years. Nevertheless, regardless of one's political/philosophical disposition, this is an endlessly fascinating debate, between two thinkers working as "tunnellers through a mountain working at opposite sides of the same mountain with different tools, without even knowing if they are working in each other's direction" (2), to use the moderators' description. The debate begins technically, Chomksy addresses his discoveries within the domain of cognitive linguistics, and Foucault outlines his historical research into the sciences in Western civilization. Chomsky is a self-described rational `Cartesian,' a philosophical disposition largely rejected by post-modernity after the detruktion of Western philosophy by Martin Heidegger. Foucault, on the other hand, (who began as a major Heideggerian) seems to adopt a Nietzschean disposition; he rejects Chomsky's assertion that a genuine concept of human justice is rooted biologically in the human species. Rather, that our knowledge of morality and human nature are always necessarily rooted in social conditioning. Chomsky actually fails (here as well as elsewhere) to really confront the philosophy of Nietzsche, who necessarily put a dent in all forms of socialism, whether democratic, libertarian, or totalitarian. To illustrate Chomsky's elusiveness: "FOUCAULT: it seems to me that the idea of justice in itself is an idea which in effect has been invented and put to work in different types of societies as an instrument of a certain political and economic power as a weapon against that power. But it seems to me that, in any case, the notion of justice itself functions within a society of classes as a claim made by the oppressed class and as justification for it. CHOMSKY: I don't agree with that. FOUCAULT: And in a classless society, I am not sure that we would still use this notion of justice" (54-55). But Chomksy replies by reasserting his belief that there must be an absolute basis in which notions of human justice are "grounded" (ibid), however, he relies once again solely on his partial knowledge of what `human nature' is.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

    This book was my re-introduction to Noam Chomksy (I studied his linguistics work in grad school) and my first introduction to Michel Foucault. Chomksy was not asked to speak very often in the U.S and, if you are to believe his supporters and his own comments, he was actively prevented from speaking or publishing his work in the U.S in the past. This is the first time this dialogue has been available in the U.S. Based on a television program recorded in France for Dutch television in the early se This book was my re-introduction to Noam Chomksy (I studied his linguistics work in grad school) and my first introduction to Michel Foucault. Chomksy was not asked to speak very often in the U.S and, if you are to believe his supporters and his own comments, he was actively prevented from speaking or publishing his work in the U.S in the past. This is the first time this dialogue has been available in the U.S. Based on a television program recorded in France for Dutch television in the early seventies, the much maligned Chomsky debated Foucault on the subject of human nature. This broad topic could have taken the discussion in many directions, but Chomsky and Foucault examined the social and political implications of either accepting that there is an innate human nature (Chomsky) or denying its existence, deeming that human behavior is purely the derivative of society at any given time (Foucault). Or is the truth somewhere in between? Chomsky and Foucault take the debate through history, referring to the writings of great minds like Descartes and Francis Bacon, and trying to prove their points. And then they take it into the modern political world, debating whether it is the denial of an inherent human nature that creates the political and societal crisis of today, or if it is just another phase in the development of human kind. It is quite amusing to see how often they do not address specifically the points the other is making, and, in fact, seemed to be missing them entirely. The debate takes up only one third of the book. The rest is devoted to interviews and writings done separately by each speaker/author that gives the reader more background on each of their philosophies.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Shane Eide

    www.emergenthermit.com Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault are described in this book by Fons Elders as ‘tunnellers through a mountain working at opposite sides of the same mountain with different tools, without even knowing if they are working in each other’s direction.’ Human Nature: Justice vs. Power is the title of the debate, which originally aired on Dutch television in 1971. The title is taken from the stance that both men arrived at (or continued to entertain) into in the late stages of their www.emergenthermit.com Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault are described in this book by Fons Elders as ‘tunnellers through a mountain working at opposite sides of the same mountain with different tools, without even knowing if they are working in each other’s direction.’ Human Nature: Justice vs. Power is the title of the debate, which originally aired on Dutch television in 1971. The title is taken from the stance that both men arrived at (or continued to entertain) into in the late stages of their careers. To reduce it to its simplest explanation—a job that the title of the book has already prepared us for—, Chomsky tends to think that some sense of justice is responsible for human nature while Foucault tends to think that programs of power play more into human behavior. One might be tempted to pin the whole occasion down to a manifestation of an ongoing war between foundationalism and hermeneutics, Chomsky being a likely tie to the former and Foucault a likely tie to the latter. However, nothing between these two thinkers is ever quite that simple. As Chomsky continues on insisting that certain attributes of human language and creativity stem from fundamental biological properties, we start to gather that this insistence has more to do with a scientific need to push forward with a theory in order to see if it stands or falls in some provided context. This also gives Chomsky a chance to remain optimistic about the nature of man by postulating that some notion of justice or, at least, a notion of ‘better justice’ is what drives human nature—which is probably a means of remaining optimistic about the future of man. This also gives him the opportunity to remain fairly constant through both subjects—creativity and politics. On the subject of creativity, Foucault seems to disagree with him very little or only in small ways, while remaining suspicious of the inherent logical movement of Chomsky’s assumptions. They split on Descartes and the mind, and the nuance of this split is representative of the paradigmic relationship that these two thinkers have with the subject matter. The subject of politics is where Foucault is at his most rigorous. When asked why he is interested in politics, the most basic answer he can provide is that it would be far stranger for someone not to be interested in politics, at which point it would be justifiable to ask, ‘Well, damit, why the hell not?’ A self proclaimed ‘Nietzschean,’ Foucault’s specialty is in the genealogies and pedigrees of certain ideas and assumptions. Through socio-linguistic turns, through the intellectual extracts of different sets of phenomena and the inter-subjective dialogue possible between them through different texts, Foucault made a career out of constantly trying to step outside of the historical contexts in which we’re thrown and creating brand new narratives in such a way that they would read as though they were things hidden since the beginning of man. The most fundamental disagreement happens late into the debate, in the political section, in which Foucault postulates, not without hesitation as though trying to avoid an impolite subject, that the notion of ‘justice’ was created and then perpetuated by the oppressed class as a justification for a certain kind of economic and political power. Chomsky defends justice as being sought as a network of basic human needs like love, decency, kindness and sympathy, whereas Foucault’s view of justice, Chomsky claims, is very specific to only certain political situations and doesn’t take into account instances like two countries going to war—One is left to choose one side, which reduces the objective to a level of basic human needs and the mutual striving of the citizens to achieve it for one another as well as themselves. Often, Foucault, eager to escape essentialist trappings, always comes back to the subject of power as a means to clarify certain issues, though he does seem to rest there much the way Nietzsche did. However Foucault does deserve credit for defining Power along more complex lines than the Nietzschean idea of power as ‘the sensation of having overcome,’ or the force by which every set of phenomena can be reduced—‘will to power.’ Foucault takes it further by saying that power is not simply a way of measuring the ways in which the strong constrain the weak but that it can also be manifested through one culture’s influence of educational tools and medical practices. This turns Foucault around from what some have been tempted to call a pessimistic reading in favor of a liberal project that coincides with that of Chomsky’s—to work on a more livable world for all. The debate only takes up about a third of the book. It’s followed up by another great interview with Chomsky alone, in which he discusses American policy, Vietnam, McCarthyism, the crimes of the FBI and the climate of counter culture and how various revolutions developed. There’s one long and one short essay by Foucault and in them, he sets out on a mission to map, with vague hope, a better political future while on the other hand deconstructing basic terms and ideas like ‘justice,’ ‘man of justice,’ ‘shepherd,’ and ‘lawgiver.’ Though no real conclusion is reached between them (as one might expect), it is an interesting look at a very important project for humanity, even if the means to get there are a bit hazy. www.emergenthermit.com

  9. 4 out of 5

    zuzanna

    as much as I respect Chomsky, definetely team Foucault

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tiago Faleiro

    I've known about this debate forever, but for whatever reason, I was always lazy to finally go through it. Somehow I discovered a paperback transcript and gave it a go. The first part of the debate is about human nature and where it is that "located". Chomsky argues that not only we have such a thing as human nature, but it is crucial for our ability to be creative. In this context, he uses creativity as the ability to produce near-unlimited valuable outputs from very little input. From is heavi I've known about this debate forever, but for whatever reason, I was always lazy to finally go through it. Somehow I discovered a paperback transcript and gave it a go. The first part of the debate is about human nature and where it is that "located". Chomsky argues that not only we have such a thing as human nature, but it is crucial for our ability to be creative. In this context, he uses creativity as the ability to produce near-unlimited valuable outputs from very little input. From is heavily based on his linguistic work, where it's impossible to account for a child's linguistic development without assumption a sort of linguist base which our brains have by default from our evolutionary history. Foucault, on the other way, argues for one that we ought to be skeptical of the concept of human nature, and if there is such a thing, it is a limitation that resides within society, but not within the brain per se. I actually think there is a great point to Foucault, especially in relation to the development of scientific progress and its contingent socio-historical background. Nevertheless, Chomsky's argument is rather straightforward, and I find it hard to argue against. Just on philosophical grounds alone taking into our evolutionary history (and even without by a more Kantian approach), but even more so with Chomsky's linguistic work. The second part is about justice vs power, which rose due to politics getting into the conversation. This part was rather frustrating, can be easily summarized that Chomsky arguing that there is such a thing as true justice, and violence (or revolution) is only justified if we perceive that to somehow produce a higher level of justice. Foucault rejects this completely, for him, justice is only a concept specific to our civilization and always dependent on power. It neatly represents the worse that postmodernism can get, especially in its Foucaultian flavor, where power quite literally becomes its only ontology and everything is subservient to it. Overall it was an enjoyable debate, and there were interesting points from both sides. I ended up seeing part of the debate on video afterward out of curiosity. Unsure if I would recommend the paperback. I would say try the video first, and if the format isn't your cup of tea, try the paperback.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Aman Sakhardande

    2019: It's not clear why they're disagreeing, or what Foucault's point even is. Obviously norms are produced by societal institutions. Obviously they inhere in us. Chomsky is actually making an important point about human freedom. We can't just attack society, we need a positive plan. 2020: So, it's just two academic leftists talking past each other. Interesting for me, as someone (now) aware of the analytic-Continental split. But Chomsky doesn't seem to be engaging with Foucault. I mean, how can 2019: It's not clear why they're disagreeing, or what Foucault's point even is. Obviously norms are produced by societal institutions. Obviously they inhere in us. Chomsky is actually making an important point about human freedom. We can't just attack society, we need a positive plan. 2020: So, it's just two academic leftists talking past each other. Interesting for me, as someone (now) aware of the analytic-Continental split. But Chomsky doesn't seem to be engaging with Foucault. I mean, how can we design our future? Isn't this just Utopian? It's not about lacking a plan; it's about avoiding utopian universalism and responding to the current social makeup. 2021: Debates are annoying if you're reading them with an eye for a triumphant party. This is fun for me because it's like seeing in-person what happens in my head (being a student interested in Continental philosophy at an analytic university, and also studying generative linguistics). While there are definitely more productive entanglements between the two traditions, it's interesting to see one that is more improvisational (less methodical).

  12. 5 out of 5

    Michael Palkowski

    The differences in thought are quite subtle at times and the exchange concerning 'just' future societies is quite embryonic for obvious reasons, However there are clear oppositional and contentious moments that within the context of the debate are worth recognizing 1)- The concept of a 'just' action or society was debated with Chomsky asserting an absolute, universalized almost innate 'schematicism' linked to human nature. The idea is linked to enlightenment values of progressively getting bette The differences in thought are quite subtle at times and the exchange concerning 'just' future societies is quite embryonic for obvious reasons, However there are clear oppositional and contentious moments that within the context of the debate are worth recognizing 1)- The concept of a 'just' action or society was debated with Chomsky asserting an absolute, universalized almost innate 'schematicism' linked to human nature. The idea is linked to enlightenment values of progressively getting better forms of justice and allowing a society of creative individuals pursuing creativity outside the repetition of inane work. Foucault notes that when looking at for example the proletarians taking power over the bourgeois, there would be a different understanding of justice because these concepts are embedded within a certain set of class relations and societal configurations. Interestingly, Chomsky is clear that he accepts that these things have a degree of social constructivism but maintains that actions that are defined as progressive wouldn't be undertaken if they were not considered 'just'. Foucault I believe is saying in response that 'just' is a product of the social formation we exist in and objective justifications of this are not possible. He rejects Satre's idea of public tribunals as a key place in criticism/activism as these points are a product of history. What I find interesting is the extent to which Chomsky is not paralyzed by his own ideas but still maintains a healthy form of civil disobedience and activism against at the time the Vietnam war. Despite Foucault's rhetoric which seems more leftist than Chomsky at times, he doesn't seem to have the praxis. 2)- The idea of innate structures or predisposition seems to be contested too. Foucault says that life as a concept was hardly used when classifying nature in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was classified regardless of living or not in hierarchical tableau. Life in short wasn't a concept they used. This kind of historical point regarding social construction is quite powerful because it shows that human nature may have differences depending on the context and paradigm. Chomsky argues we have an epistemological indicator similar to his universal grammar model in that humans can reach conclusions on these topics, usually quite similar ones, using limited sensual empirical data. 3)- An unspoken disagreement over autobiographical involvement is clear. Foucault spars with the moderator who asks him a personal question. He believes that such questions are deeply uninteresting. He shares a lot in common here with Heidegger when he said that the best way to summarize Aristotle's work was to say 'he was born, he thought, he died'. The ideas are more important than the person saying them basically. Chomsky speaks a lot about his personal involvement in disobedience and his activism in the Vietnam war. He often uses examples albeit fictionally that would relate to his own life. This shows a difference in method and in the extent to which thinkers allow their own personal lives get involved in their work. It's somewhat interesting that Foucault feels this way considering his constructivist approach. The disagreement therefore is over method. Chomsky values communitarian networks of free association and seeks to orient his thinking politically and socially into achieving this. Whereas Foucault is seeking to critique institutions and showcase a non linearity to thinking and process over time using his genealogical analysis

  13. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Stein

    There are few people who would defend the relevance of both Foucault and Chomsky at the same time and for the same reasons. I'm one of those people. I think Foucault is important for his commentaries on politics, and I'm coming to respect Chomsky's political writing more and more. (And Chomsky's work on linguistics is necessary for anyone interested in the history and standards of that field.) Both are a bit more radical than I am, but that's a part of the time that they were writing in and a pa There are few people who would defend the relevance of both Foucault and Chomsky at the same time and for the same reasons. I'm one of those people. I think Foucault is important for his commentaries on politics, and I'm coming to respect Chomsky's political writing more and more. (And Chomsky's work on linguistics is necessary for anyone interested in the history and standards of that field.) Both are a bit more radical than I am, but that's a part of the time that they were writing in and a part of their disposition as real groundbreaking, powerful intellectuals. The book provides very little insight, though, into the political writings of either; it shows (at most) that the two liked each other and agreed quite a bit more than many of their successors would like you to believe. (Chomsky is still alive as I'm writing this; take successor in a more general way.) In the writings we get a look at Chomsky's view of American political history, especially within the University, and we get a look at Foucault's reading of Nietzsche, and how he considers himself seriously influenced by Nietzsche's thought. Both views are useful to understanding the intellectuals, but if that's all we're getting out of these interviews, then we're losing a lot. These guys have some serious complex ideas (though, as far as their ideas about politics and power, I hazard the statement that Foucault's views are a bit more complicated and challenging than Chomsky; however, I'm an American intellectual and so have more familiarity with Chomsky's background and, perhaps if I were French, it might be different) but these ideas are not address, rearticulated, or challenged in any serious way in the interviews, and that's a huge opportunity missed. The editing of the interviews are fine, though given that they've made the book intentionally short, they still could have used some excerpts to bulk up the text (they do already; the last 100 pages or so are actually interviews and statements from Foucault and Chomsky individually) that really challenge the reader and reinforce the central issues of human nature discussed in the interview the two intellectuals did together. It could have been stronger, especially, to push the point on the subjects where the two disagree (which gets touched on the second half of the interview quite a bit) and try to show the reasoning from each on the points of disagreement. Excerpts from important works by the intellectuals, or published papers, could have accomplished this. (Perhaps this criticism is too harsh; perhaps there were publishing issues that prevented this from happening.) Overall, the book is not going to give much in the way of new thinking to those who are familiar with either of the two authors, and isn't much of a primer for their views on politics. It is, at best, a sort of appendix to their views and something of an intersection between them, but I wouldn't strongly recommend it unless someone was very explicitly interested in a very particular relation between the two thinkers.

  14. 4 out of 5

    xDEAD ENDx

    Chomsky, you were an embarrassment then and remain so now. Part of me wishes Foucault would just have outright said how much of a fool Chomsky is, but it's almost as if Chomsky just points out his hypocrisies and contradictions himself (with a little help from the audience members). Acting as the arbiter of legality and justice (and even trying to say there is a natural, innate legality to humanity--of course, he is the one to define what is legal and not--outside of the state-form), Chomsky doe Chomsky, you were an embarrassment then and remain so now. Part of me wishes Foucault would just have outright said how much of a fool Chomsky is, but it's almost as if Chomsky just points out his hypocrisies and contradictions himself (with a little help from the audience members). Acting as the arbiter of legality and justice (and even trying to say there is a natural, innate legality to humanity--of course, he is the one to define what is legal and not--outside of the state-form), Chomsky does a swell job conflating anarco-syndicalism with liberalism (or perhaps they've always been the same thing). Not to mention the terrible misunderstanding, or if one was to be generous, simplification, of Marx: the proletariat as the "universal class"?... I'm pretty sure they are, by definition, the class that would abolish themselves. It's also a complete wonder how 40 years later "anarchists" are still spouting out garbage about how technology can be a decentralizing and liberatory apparatus, since Chomsky fudged his answer back in the early 70s. Yuck! Some key insights from Foucault though: the inability for us to map out a future world, the reasons for analyzing society in order to destroy it, a hesitancy to define anything as human nature, and remarks on why he is interested in politics that can be read in support of the anti-political project. One of the other two pieces by Chomsky is a rather bland analysis of state policies and actions he is known for, and the other is a lackluster attempts to talk about his philosophy of language and sum up his debate with Foucault (which he almost repeats verbatim from the transcript). The two substantial Foucault pieces were excellent. This seems to be one of the earliest cases (before his university lectures) of him attempting to elaborate upon his theories of Power in a language that is not verbose or laden with jargon (not that there's necessarily a problem with those qualities). The standout piece for me is "Omnes et Singulatim," which gives a historical reading of Greek, Jewish, and Christian formulations of the flock and how this could possibly have influenced contemporary discourses of policing, Power, and state functioning. I gave this five stars because of the lucidity that Foucault begins to express. His ideas are easy to understand without prior familiarity with his works and definitely show how he is an almost-unrivaled thinker from the past century. Because of this, I am willing to set aside the trash written by Chomsky.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kyle

    Chomsky is succinct and clear. To me his thoughts on epistemological limits are the most interesting. If you've read any of his other activist works, you likely will not find anything new here. Foucault has some interesting ideas but his discourse is a bit nebulous and abstract for my taste. Foucault has one particularly interesting discussion on the rise of the 'specialist' intellectual (as opposed to the 'universal' intellectual). In other words, a divergence from the 'renaissance man' model o Chomsky is succinct and clear. To me his thoughts on epistemological limits are the most interesting. If you've read any of his other activist works, you likely will not find anything new here. Foucault has some interesting ideas but his discourse is a bit nebulous and abstract for my taste. Foucault has one particularly interesting discussion on the rise of the 'specialist' intellectual (as opposed to the 'universal' intellectual). In other words, a divergence from the 'renaissance man' model of scholarship and an increased focus on the 'savant' model. It sounds to me like he laments this shift, with the reasoning that the latter is more subject to the whims of state and power structures in general. I didn't think he was very clear in outlining his assumptions on this line of reasoning, and honestly it feels like it stems more from a general lament over the decline of philosophy broadly and probably the stigma that accompanies the 'ivory tower' academic, wizened, pretentious, and anything but pragmatic. I'm sympathetic to the sentiment but my initial counter would be that this shift is inevitable. We only have to consider a prospective intellectual generalist faced with the rapidly expanding sphere of knowledge to see that that may be the case. On the other hand, if what Chomsky claims about knowledge acquisition is true---namely, that we have in us innate systems of knowledge (possible theories)---then it may be that by understanding the underlying structure (and rules) of this knowledge, one's task becomes much easier in other specialized domains. I for one think that all areas of study could do well to seriously consider the drive to unify theories that is best exemplified in physics.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Eric Steere

    Although probably not the best introduction to Foucault and Chomsky's thought (though Chomsky does tend to follow a more linear position), this debate is more indicative of their respective approaches to the social sciences. As Chomsky posits a kind of communitarian society or set of cosmopolitan social relations, Foucault questions the institutions that individuals are embedded within as a kind of power structure bent on maintaining the status quo and controlling those elements of society in "n Although probably not the best introduction to Foucault and Chomsky's thought (though Chomsky does tend to follow a more linear position), this debate is more indicative of their respective approaches to the social sciences. As Chomsky posits a kind of communitarian society or set of cosmopolitan social relations, Foucault questions the institutions that individuals are embedded within as a kind of power structure bent on maintaining the status quo and controlling those elements of society in "need" of coercion. He goes further and suggests that all state institutions, down from the clinic and police station to the seemingly "benign" institution of the university are actually in need of interrogation (through language, through discourse) to determine how they ultimately maintain and enforce a certain cet of power relations. Their approaches are different, for example Foucault rarely answers questions but asks his own, but most noticeable in these debates are Chomsky's poise and Foucault's incendiary violence in words. Enjoy!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Basma Abdallah Uraiqat

    A really interesting and short read combining two great minds. It discusses the concept of human nature as innate property or social construct, offering very interesting arguments. It also discusses the concept of justice vs power and I found this section particularly powerful and exciting to read! I personally find Foucault a much more convincing and deep thinker than Chomsky and I was extremely disappointed in how little he spoke, it almost seemed like the interviewer would not allow him to sp A really interesting and short read combining two great minds. It discusses the concept of human nature as innate property or social construct, offering very interesting arguments. It also discusses the concept of justice vs power and I found this section particularly powerful and exciting to read! I personally find Foucault a much more convincing and deep thinker than Chomsky and I was extremely disappointed in how little he spoke, it almost seemed like the interviewer would not allow him to speak and would let Chomsky go on for pages about idealist notions that I personally do not agree with. It is always interesting to listen to or read a debate between thinkers, but this one was somewhat cut short as we were not allowed to get to Foucault's thought as much as Chomsky.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Roderick Vesper

    I had only a cursory knowledge of Chomsky from a linguistics class and Foucault from research presentations by other students during my MFA studies. This book was engaging and has sparked my interest in going deeper in my studies of their theories. Despite the dense thinking of the two, the book is a relatively quick and easy read. The chosen works that follow the interview transcription are interesting individually and seem to create an interesting dialogue. I only take issue with the inclusion I had only a cursory knowledge of Chomsky from a linguistics class and Foucault from research presentations by other students during my MFA studies. This book was engaging and has sparked my interest in going deeper in my studies of their theories. Despite the dense thinking of the two, the book is a relatively quick and easy read. The chosen works that follow the interview transcription are interesting individually and seem to create an interesting dialogue. I only take issue with the inclusion of "Omnes et Singulatim: Toward a Critique of Political Reason." It feels forced and doesn't flow as well with the dialogue that is being created.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Javier Sánchez

    Very interesting book. It begins with the debate about the human nature between Chomsky and Foucault. Certainly the debate is less a matter of who is right or not, but the explanation of both intellectuals of what is the essential problem about the capacity to learn. Nevertheless very interesting to hear the positions of both of them in this matters and the subsequent political ones which appear later over the table of the debate. The second part of the book includes two separate interviews about Very interesting book. It begins with the debate about the human nature between Chomsky and Foucault. Certainly the debate is less a matter of who is right or not, but the explanation of both intellectuals of what is the essential problem about the capacity to learn. Nevertheless very interesting to hear the positions of both of them in this matters and the subsequent political ones which appear later over the table of the debate. The second part of the book includes two separate interviews about politics with both authors. Very enriching despite the complexity of the subject and the dificulty by following the explanations of both thinkers.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Coeruleum

    Have you ever wanted to read a debate between an anarcho-nationalist pseudoscientist who thinks countries are evil and maintain their power via conspiracy theories, and a proud crypto-Marxist nihilist who thinks that criminals and the insane are unfairly vilified and if they took over the world it'd be a paradise? Well, of course you do! See what all the hype about the two least pragmatically influential intellectuals but most influential among people who only navel gaze of the far left is all a Have you ever wanted to read a debate between an anarcho-nationalist pseudoscientist who thinks countries are evil and maintain their power via conspiracy theories, and a proud crypto-Marxist nihilist who thinks that criminals and the insane are unfairly vilified and if they took over the world it'd be a paradise? Well, of course you do! See what all the hype about the two least pragmatically influential intellectuals but most influential among people who only navel gaze of the far left is all about! I seriously don't think Chomsky's or Foucault's ideas are very good, but they are very influential, and this is probably the most condensed way there is to learn them.

  21. 4 out of 5

    carrie

    This is a great read-- both Foucault and Chomsky express their ideas clearly and, maybe more importantly, they are excellent at pointing out the exact differences between their theories. Chomsky sums it up around page 132. If you're interested in linguistics and politics, innate vs. experience-learned language, this is a good read. Also, Foucault has an interesting piece on Police and their role in society. This is a great read-- both Foucault and Chomsky express their ideas clearly and, maybe more importantly, they are excellent at pointing out the exact differences between their theories. Chomsky sums it up around page 132. If you're interested in linguistics and politics, innate vs. experience-learned language, this is a good read. Also, Foucault has an interesting piece on Police and their role in society.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Lewis

    By far the most valuable part is the first, which consists of the actual text of the (trilingual, although all translated into English) debate. The second and third parts, which contain some of the key formulations on the topics of language and power by Chomsky and Foucault respectively are good, but are better found in their contexts elsewhere.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mike Wigal

    The political aspects of the debate and other readings in this edition were more interesting to me than the human nature aspects. Fairly dense reading and the debate format for reading probably doesn't play well. I'd be thinking "OK, I understand their arguments. Uh, no. No I don't really." Still Chomsky is Chomsky and that's reason enough to read this. The political aspects of the debate and other readings in this edition were more interesting to me than the human nature aspects. Fairly dense reading and the debate format for reading probably doesn't play well. I'd be thinking "OK, I understand their arguments. Uh, no. No I don't really." Still Chomsky is Chomsky and that's reason enough to read this.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    A good single-volume contrast between the two. The debate itself it probably the best part, but the other sections are worth reading, if for no reason other than to contrast the approaches of two such influential figures.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Amy D.P.

    In my opinion, Chomsky won! Really, there isn't much debate here, but there is some insightful reading about humanity. Besides the debate from the 70's being transcribed there are also writings from both Chomsky and Foucault. A very interesting read. In my opinion, Chomsky won! Really, there isn't much debate here, but there is some insightful reading about humanity. Besides the debate from the 70's being transcribed there are also writings from both Chomsky and Foucault. A very interesting read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Nomen-Mutatio

    Video Footage of Chomsky v. Foucault Video Footage of Chomsky v. Foucault

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lio

    The Part of debate on Justice as the derive is one of the most important debates regarding the subject, they both nearly make their point of view crystal clear. It's a joyful reading. The Part of debate on Justice as the derive is one of the most important debates regarding the subject, they both nearly make their point of view crystal clear. It's a joyful reading.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Hammam

    Basic but bright, Totally recommended.

  29. 4 out of 5

    August Denys

    In some sense, the title of this book is misleading. Yes, it includes the "debate" between Chomsky and Foucault, but, for one matter, can we justifiably call it a debate, and, for another matter, only a third of this book is this debate. This is where this book can become enjoyable, for the time we live in we can easily find the recording of the televised debate with subtitles which covers each of the languages used in the debate; however, the more interesting and more valuable part of this book In some sense, the title of this book is misleading. Yes, it includes the "debate" between Chomsky and Foucault, but, for one matter, can we justifiably call it a debate, and, for another matter, only a third of this book is this debate. This is where this book can become enjoyable, for the time we live in we can easily find the recording of the televised debate with subtitles which covers each of the languages used in the debate; however, the more interesting and more valuable part of this book comes in the inclusion of 4 (5 if you count the last excerpt) chapters that follow the debate, giving it more context. That being said, the 4 chapters are two excerpts from Chomsky and two excerpts of Foucault. Of the four, I would say that the pieces of Foucault are more interesting because the two chapters of Chomsky are taken directly from an interview with Mitsou Ronat which can be found in Chomsky's book On Language. The works of Foucault that are included are a series of Questions that Foucault answers and what seems to be a lecture that he gave. However, what of the contents of the book besides the table of contents? I think that it is important to note that neither Chomsky or Foucault are philosophers, and this is one of the first things addressed in the debate itself, for the debate series was held as a part of a Dutch program that was able to get philosophers together to debate. The program was titled the International Philosophers' Project. Why is it important to bring this up? It is important to know that this discussion based around Human Nature and Politics, and while there have been and are many scientific advances, these scientific advances are not wholly separate from an underlying philosophical phenomena. And this is the point I would like to bring up, for these thinkers are both based in a certain social science: for Chomsky it is Linguistics and for Foucault it is history (but don't say that to his face). The difference is not only in which Science they deal with, but each person understand the philosophical underpinning differently; however, from reading this book and knowing of each person's project you can gain some curious insight from this. Chomsky is not afraid to link his thought to a Cartesian model. Foucault on the other hand, even though he is not a philosopher, is very in tune to philosophical problems and different philosophies (heck he had a heartbreaking bromance with Gilles Deleuze). In regard to Human Nature, this is the big sticking point, for Chomsky's reliance on Descartes actually gives his statements and air of naivety. So, this book is interesting. I picked it up on a whim because I had heard a certain podcast praising Chomsky while bashing Foucault. While it may be the case that Chomsky's political analysis is more immediately available, if one takes the time to understand Foucault, then they can see that Chomsky Cartesian underpinning to his scientific thought is not only naive, but it is also arrogant and detrimental. But this isn't the book that goes into that, this came be seen when one is already acquainted with the both and then reads this book. Since this is a book review for this book, I am not going to delve into other works that could help to explain this point (the nod to Deleuze earlier was already stepping outside of the bounds enough). If the difference between Chomsky and Foucault can be summed up, then the best way might be that Chomsky is only looking at the object in this point in his life while Foucault is looking at the person studying the object and seeing that the studier is creating a conceptual apparatus in which to study the object. There is a big difference in this and it shows in Foucault's reactions in the debate. PS, a great part of this book is that it inserts Foucault's mannerism from the debate into the text. "Elders: Well, may I first of all ask you not to make your answers so lengthy. [Foucault laughs] "(pg. 21)

  30. 5 out of 5

    justin

    As a person who is familiar with neither Chomsky nor Foucault, this book serves as a great introduction to the two of the most important public intellectuals of our time. However, I still find Foucault's philosophy to be extremely odd. I might not understand it correctly, but it seems to me that Foucault views the world as a power struggle. Such belief results in strange views such as: "justice" and "truth" are instruments invented by the bourgeois society to maintain its power over the proletar As a person who is familiar with neither Chomsky nor Foucault, this book serves as a great introduction to the two of the most important public intellectuals of our time. However, I still find Foucault's philosophy to be extremely odd. I might not understand it correctly, but it seems to me that Foucault views the world as a power struggle. Such belief results in strange views such as: "justice" and "truth" are instruments invented by the bourgeois society to maintain its power over the proletariat. This seems to me as so obviously false. Truth and justice can indeed be perverted and used by the powerful, yet these are nonetheless the appropriated version of the notions. there are real "truths" (the earth revolves around the sun) as well as real "justice" (killing is bad most of the time), it is not the notions' existence but the interpretations of the notions by the oppressors we should be concerned about. Chomsky on the other hand made a pretty convincing case for his critiques of the US and his pursuit of higher justice. Yet like many other far-leftist theorists, I think Chomksy's politics successfully diagnose the problem but fail to provide a sustainable solution (albeit more research into Chomsky's anarcho-syndicalism is definitely needed).

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