Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Chomsky -- ad hominem considerations

While ad hominem attacks are never acceptable in debate, in fact they comprise a fallacious approach to argumentation in that instead of attacking the evidence and conclusion, the attacker attacks the person advancing the argument, it is useful to examine an opponent’s presuppositions. Chomsky was a grammarian, a linguist, but I wonder to what extent he examined hermeneutics. Ian Robinson, in The New Grammarians’ Funeral, A Critique of Noam Chomsky’s Linguistics, suggests that Chomsky’s knowledge or acceptance of hermeneutics was limited. Robinson was inspired to write his book, to some extent by reading Collingwood. And if we turn to Collingwood’s approach and attempt to ferret out Chomsky’s “constellations of presuppositions,” we suspect that he probably never gave Liberal Democracy a chance. He was prejudiced against it from his youth, much of which was spent in Leftist pursuits and considerations. Also, he claims to have begun reading Anarchist writers in the early 40s. That seems especially interesting in that he was born in December of 1928 which would have made him 11 through most of 1940.

I think that if we study the Leftism of the 40s and 50s we don’t find that much of it was anarchist in nature. But we do find that all of it was hostile toward the U.S. And this is what I have thus far encountered in reading Chomsky: He is from the Left and his emphasis is overwhelmingly hostile toward the U.S. As to his anarchism playing a major role, I would need to see some evidence of that in his early writings. I am suspicious of his claims to have opposed anti-American Communist forces as much as he subsequently wrote that he did. We know that the Russians are engaging in revisionist history when they write about Stalin. Perhaps Chomsky has engaged in a bit of that when he writes about himself. Perhaps we all do that to some extent. We hope that something we said or did wasn’t really as bad as it probably was. And if we are forced to describe something embarrassing from our past, we dress it up a little.

As a kind of disclaimer, I’ll repeat that my approach when reading something is not to wait until the end and write a review, but to think (in print) about what I read as I read it – which severely limits my ability to dress up early misapprehensions, if I should happen to have had any.

No comments: