Cognitive Potentialities

Cognitive Potentialities


The cartesian background of Chomsky's work



Chomsky claims that the growth of language is analogous to the development of a bodily organ and is in large predetermined by genetic factors. Further more, he adds that innate potentialities, or innate structure do exist and takes it to be self-evident to the extend that "no rational person can deny it" (Chomsky '75,216). The basic problem is to find whether this specific cognitive structure is of the character of "powers," or "dispositions," whether it is a "passive" system of incremental data pocessing habit, formation, and induction, or an "active" system which is the "source of linguistic competence" as well as other systems of knowledge and belief.


Chomsky seems, at ths point at least, to express in an indirect way a kind of determinism. The idea that our linguistic potentiality is an innate power might very well indicate that it is restricted by the biological and genetic predisposition. This kind of determinism ceases to exist from the point that the linguistic capacity has developed. This is the point where the human potentiality unfurls its essence which is nothing else but the human creativity.

Descartes is also preoccupied with the same aspect of human capacity. In the Meditations, Descartes maintains that the "cognitive power" is a faculty that is not purely passive and that is "properly called mind when it either forms new ideas or attends to those already formed" acting in a way that is not completely under the control of sense, or imagination, or memory.He also distinguishes between the "passive faculty of perception," and the "active faculty capable of forming and producing ideas."

Those two approaches reveal an indissoluble interconnection. The dynamic property of human cognitive and linguistic capacity is what places Man in an exceptional position in the Cosmos. Both thinkers accept this property to be "the truly distinctive and most characteristic of the human species" (Chomsky '75, 5).Descartes argued that "this ability cannot be detected in an animal or an automaton which in other respects, shows signs of apparent intelligence exceeding those of a human, even though such an organism or machine might be as fully endowed as a human with the physiological organs necessary to produce speech." The presence of this ability is the necessary precondition for both thinkers to affirm that another body possesses mind.

Evy Syrou



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