Chomsky on Language and Rights

In the recent issue of The Boston Review, Noam Chomsky discusses what he’s usually reluctant to discuss, on the unversailty of language and rights, and (a little) on the possible connections. 

“With each step toward principled explanation in these [genetic, experiental, and computational] terms, we gain a clearer grasp of the universals of language. It should be kept in mind, however, that any such progress still leaves unresolved problems that have been raised for hundreds of years. Among these are the mysterious problems of the creative and coherent ordinary use of language, a core problem of Cartesian science.

* * *

We are now moving to domains of will and choice and judgment, and the thin strands that may connect what seems within the range of scientific inquiry to essential problems of human life, in particular vexed questions about universal human rights. One possible way to draw connections is by proceeding along the lines of Hume’s remarks that I mentioned earlier: his observation that the unbounded range of moral judgments—like the unbounded range of linguistic knowledge—must be founded on general principles that are part of our nature though they lie beyond our ‘original instincts,’ which elsewhere he took to include the ‘species of natural instincts’ on which knowledge and belief are grounded.”

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