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The Chomsky - Foucault Debate: On Human Nature
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The Chomsky - Foucault Debate: On Human Nature

3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  1,314 ratings  ·  86 reviews
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...more
Paperback, 213 pages
Published September 1st 2006 by New Press, The (first published 1974)
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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...more
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...more
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....more
Ellen
Dec 21, 2007 Ellen rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: political science students or anyone who think for themselves and like to question the status quo
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...more
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...more
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...more
Andrew
It's really cool to watch Uncle Noam and Michelle duke it out, Danish-style, in Fons-Elder-moderated- Octagon. The human-nature-theoretical portion of the debate was less interesting to me than the human-nature-and-justice/politics portion. Though they both have a similar leftist end in sight, I have to say Chomsky comes off more persuasive and humane about the prospects for revolution/change than Foucault, who comes off slightly monsterish in his blood-thirst and his willingness to sacrifice al...more
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...more
Garren
Read this for the Chomsky half. Foucault is a poor communicator.

What I liked: Chomsky's take on why Watergate was big news. Lots of other little bits in what he said.

What I didn't like: Chomsky continually being urged to draw political science conclusions from his work in linguistics.
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.
Joe Midgley
This was an impulse buy. I wanted to read some more Chomsky and I figured I'd learn a little about this Foucault guy along the way.

I'm not interested much in linguistics, but I do like Chomsky's writing on politics. He can be a little long-winded sometimes, but by and large he makes sense and uses simple language. He's straight forward. I loved his perspective on Watergate, and also the parts about the FBI. That's where my appreciation of this book ends.

I couldn't stand Foucault. Towards the e...more
Kevin Lewis
Apr 02, 2007 Kevin Lewis rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: nerds
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.
Amy 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.
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.
Ian
"Fascinating".
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...more
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...more
Billie Pritchett
This book contains the debate Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault had with each other in a televised debate in 1971 as well as two interviews with only Chomsky and an interview with only Foucault and two of Foucault's other writings. Two lines of argument in the debate are what constitutes human nature and what justice would be for human beings. Contrary to Chomsky's claim to some agreement with Foucault in one of the interviews with only him, Chomsky and Foucault conceive of both human nature and...more
Meurs
C'est un peu Mega shark vs giant octopus, mais lire ce dialogue avec 40 ans de distance, c'est intéressant. D'abord, la pensée de Foucault a vieilli au point d'en devenir ridicule. Le discours sur la dictature du prolétariat, sur le génie de la classe ouvrière, sur la violence nécessaire de la révolution, sur l'idée que la justice n'a rien à voir dans les objectifs de la révolution. Avec Foucault, il n'y a pas de point fixe, tout est relatif et façonné par les rapports de classe. Chomsky apparai...more
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...more
Brittany
As far as the debate goes, it is certainly difficult to overcome Foucault's criticism of both the premises and conclusions being articulated by Chomsky and the interviewer, and rightly so. Foucault's theory deconstructs notions of society and class struggles from the ground up, and it is interesting to watch him demolish the facade to show the complex and well-developed structure of power.
Chomsky works hard to offer a positive theory of human nature, and linguistic creativity. However, I found...more
Ryan
This serves both as an introduction to Chomsky's and Foucault's thought, and as an illustration of the differences in their focus and methods. The debate contrasts the styles of analytic versus contintental philosophy. Chomsky's rigorous, qualified, scientific approach to human nature (where in biology lies the root of language or creativity?) takes a whole different approach from Foucault's historical analysis of social powers (knowledge as a productive capacity.)
The two's methods are differen...more
Nathan Satterlee
Chomsky has faith in a fundamentally just and decent human nature blessed with emotions like love, kindness, and sympathy. Foucault criticizes the narrowness of this vision, which also lies at the heart of moral ideology throughout history. In a modern world where repressive knowledge systems are instituted and policed by schools, hospitals, and families in addition to the mass media, perhaps the most effective form of individual opposition is subversion and disobedience in the name of increasin...more
Malcolm
Great read: it's like 'My Dinner with Andre', only shorter :-)
This is a debate in interview format that was hosted by Dutch philosopher, Fons Elders back in 1971.
The discussions centers around big ideas (freedom, justice, human nature), but tied into their role in shaping politics. Chomsky and Foucault do a good job of not going into the weeds as they frame their arguments by avoiding excessive disclaimers, exceptions and definitions, and instead try to use each others basic assumptions.
This is...more
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...more
Rob
the title is not very accurate. it's not a debate, and it only occasionally delves into what i think of as "human nature". and yet, there are lots of great ideas in this book.

the first third is the "debate", which is really sort of a simultaneous interview in which this philosopher Fons Elders asks one of them a question and then asks the other one what he thinks of what the first one said. chomsky and foucault hardly interact, and they don't disagree much either, although they often say, "well...more
John Banister
You definitely lose something from the live debate interaction in its textual form, but indeed, the text of the debate is still relevant and insightful today. Included are also a couple transcribed interviews and portions of essays and extraneous essays, but those are pretty oblique to the debate. If you're especially interested in theory (or writing about Chomsky and/or Foucault) but if its all the same, you can watch the good portions of the debate on YouTube.
Jesse Grove
This here is a great and unusual philosophy text. At the same time, it serves as the perfect introduction to Foucault and Chomsky, as well as providing something very valuable for those more familiar. I can't speak of it's value to well-read Chomskyites, but already familiar with Foucault, this provided a clarity that I was unable to find in any other Foucault text. Because this is from a discussion and not the thoroughly vetted work that you would find in a book or even a lecture, I would hesit...more
Soroosh
i believe this debate is a very good example of the difference between a common sense understanding of power (i.e. Chomsky's) and the innovative understanding that Foucault advocates. Chomsky begins by talking about "human nature" which he considers to be a non-historical concept. And this is the best point of departure for someone like Foucault (or Deleuze or Nietzsche). Foucault starts by challenging the very concept of "human nature". And he tells that it is a historical concept. I think one...more
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Avram Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, political activist, author, and lecturer. He is an Institute Professor and professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Chomsky is credited with the creation of the theory of generative grammar, considered to be one of the most significant contributions to the field of linguistics made in the 20th century. H...more
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“The real political task in a society such as ours is to criticize the workings of institutions that appear to be both neutral and independent, to criticize and attack them in such a manner that the political violence that has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight against them.” 92 likes
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