2005 – Noam Chomsky – The Idea of Universality in Linguistics and Human Rights (MIT) 1

Speakers: Noam Chomsky & Elizabeth S. Spelke March 15, 2005 Running Time: 1:38:20 About the Lecture: If humans have a common, in-born capacity for language, and for such complex behaviors as morality, might the faculties be somehow linked? Noam Chomsky perceives a mere thread of a connection. At breakneck speed, Chomsky leads us through a history of language theory, concluding with the revolutionary model he championed: a universal grammar underpinning all languages that corresponds to an innate capacity of the human brain. While scientists may now have a “clearer grasp of the universals of language,” says Chomsky, notions of universality grow murky as we move “into domains of will, choice and judgment.” Chomsky cites the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights as one example of “broad cross-cultural consensus.” But he brandishes examples of how “our moral and intellectual culture….forcefully rejects universal moral judgments” — such as continued US refusal to approve anti-torture conventions. In contrast, Elizabeth Spelke forcefully links “universals in human nature to some of the developments in bringing about a greater balance in human rights.” Thirty years of cognitive and cross cultural research show that humans universally structure their world in terms of objects, have a universal capacity to represent numbers, and to represent other people as “intentional, goal-directed agents whose freely chosen actions are subject to moral evaluation.” Variation among

11 thoughts on “2005 – Noam Chomsky – The Idea of Universality in Linguistics and Human Rights (MIT) 1

  1. By the way, thanks for your comment. I “favorited” this video months ago but hadn’t watched it. You inadvertently reminded me of its existence. Should be fascinating.

  2. Yes, like the title indicates… Partly linguistics but also an attempt to make a link, however loose, with the notion of universality in human rights. Rather fascinating actually. I do apologise for the slightly unsynchronized sound. Bad transfer. I hope it isn’t too much of an inconvenience.

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