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The Chomsky - Foucault Debate: On Human Nature

3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  1,535 ratings  ·  99 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
Paperback, 213 pages
Published September 1st 2006 by New Press, The (first published 1974)
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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
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
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.
يبدأ هذا الكتاب بالمناظرة الشهيرة لكل من نعوم تشومسكي وميشيل فوكو والتي جرت في هولندا في نوفمبر 1971 بإدارة المفكر الهولندي الشهير فونس إلدر، وكانت النقطتان الرئيسيتان في الحوار "سؤال الطبيعة الانسانية- والسياسة"

أتاح الحوار مساحة للنقاش عبر الجغرافيات الفكرية والسياسية، والذي أبدى وجهات النظر المختلفة لكل من تشومسكي وفوكو تبعاً لاختلاف نهجهم ( اللغوي-الفلسفي ) والسياسي في ذات الوقت- والذي يلمس جلياً في أطروحاتهم الفكرية.

كان هناك اتفاق جزئي بين تشومسكي وفوكو بما يتعلق بسؤال "الطبيعة الانسانية" و
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
Este libro es la transcripción de un debate televisado en los años setenta. Se estructura en dos partes:
La primera, sobre las teorías de estructura del lenguaje, me ha resultado bastante dura y llena de tecnicismos. He de decir que soy un auténtico profano en la materia y de ahí la dificultad, pero aún así, leída con atención, aunque no he logrado posicionarme por ninguno de los dos debatientes, si he captado lo interesante que puede llegar a ser el tema.
La segunda parte del debate, sobre el uso
Shane Eide

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
Marwa Faqeeh
هذا الكتاب مدخل جيد لفكر كلا المفكرين ومحرض على قراءة المزيد من أعمالهما. أي أنه لايغني من جوع أبدا. إلا أن مايميزه بالطبع عرض الآراء المختلفة لقضية واحدة في وقت واحد. كانت أقرب إلى مقابلة للمفكرين منها من مناظرة. أفكار فوكو مرتبة جدا ومقتضبة في المناظرة بعكس تشومسكي الذي عرض العديد من الأفكار التي لم تكن واضحة تماما حتى بالنسبة له حتى أنه يذكر في مواضع عديدة من المناظرة أنه ليس قادرا على شرحها أو تفسيرها.
مشاهدة تسجيل المناظرةيضفي بعداً آخر لها.
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
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
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
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 ...more
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.
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
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.
Rishiyur Nikhil
First 67 pages are a transcript of a "debate", in 1971, hosted by Prof. Fons Elders in the Netherlands, between Chomsky and Foucault. The rest of the book are re-publications of essays written at other
times by Chomsky and Foucault.

It's hardly a debate, just an expression of their views. The initial topic is "creativity", and how they approach the topic in different ways. These different ways are not really at cross purposes; they
themselves use the metaphor of "digging into the same mountain from
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
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.
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.
While the debate is on human nature, I think it's more interesting to see where, epistemologically, these two thinkers are coming from. They obviously have different ideas about the generation and nature of knowledge, and this informs their positions within the debate. The topic of human nature is like a vehicle through which we are able to see Foucault's and Chomsky's deeper philosophical paradigms. Do they agree? No. Do we even reach any conclusions bout human nature? Not really. But that does ...more
I was more familiar with Foucault than Chomsky as I began to read this book, so it was interesting to read both perspectives. I disagree with reviewers who find Foucault unclear; he doesn't want to pinned down within typical discourses, but that doesn't mean his projects are flappy and meaningless. Foucault's essay "Truth and Power" was, I think, remarkably lucid. I do agree with Chomsky that it is not enough to have social revolution just to win; people usually believe they are right, that ther ...more
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
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
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
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
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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
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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.” 110 likes
“The government has a great need to restore its credibility, to make people forget its history and rewrite it. The intelligentsia have to a remarkable degree undertaken this task. It is also necessary to establish the "lessons" that have to be drawn from the war, to ensure that these are conceived on the narrowest grounds, in terms of such socially neutral categories as "stupidity" or "error" or "ignorance" or perhaps "cost."

Why? Because soon it will be necessary to justify other confrontations, perhaps other U.S. interventions in the world, other Vietnams.

But this time, these will have to be successful intervention, which don't slip out of control. Chile, for example. It is even possible for the press to criticize successful interventions - the Dominican Republic, Chile, etc. - as long as these criticisms don't exceed "civilized limits," that is to say, as long as they don't serve to arouse popular movements capable of hindering these enterprises, and are not accompanied by any rational analysis of the motives of U.S. imperialism, something which is complete anathema, intolerable to liberal ideology.

How is the liberal press proceeding with regard to Vietnam, that sector which supported the "doves"? By stressing the "stupidity" of the U.S. intervention; that's a politically neutral term. It would have been sufficient to find an "intelligent" policy. The war was thus a tragic error in which good intentions were transmuted into bad policies, because of a generation of incompetent and arrogant officials. The war's savagery is also denounced, but that too, is used as a neutral category...Presumably the goals were legitimate - it would have been all right to do the same thing, but more humanely...

The "responsible" doves were opposed to the war - on a pragmatic basis. Now it is necessary to reconstruct the system of beliefs according to which the United States is the benefactor of humanity, historically committed to freedom, self-determination, and human rights. With regard to this doctrine, the "responsible" doves share the same presuppositions as the hawks. They do not question the right of the United States to intervene in other countries. Their criticism is actually very convenient for the state, which is quite willing to be chided for its errors, as long as the fundamental right of forceful intervention is not brought into question.


The resources of imperialist ideology are quite vast. It tolerates - indeed, encourages - a variety of forms of opposition, such as those I have just illustrated. It is permissible to criticize the lapses of the intellectuals and of government advisers, and even to accuse them of an abstract desire for "domination," again a socially neutral category not linked in any way to concrete social and economic structures. But to relate that abstract "desire for domination" to the employment of force by the United States government in order to preserve a certain system of world order, specifically, to ensure that the countries of the world remain open insofar as possible to exploitation by U.S.-based corporations - that is extremely impolite, that is to argue in an unacceptable way.”
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