Sunday, 27 March 2016

Noam Chomsky (LII): Personality Type Analysis

Avram Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, social critic and political activist. An Institute Professor Emeritus at Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Chomsky's main contributions lie in the field of linguistics, with his revolutionary ideas on 'Universal Grammar', 'Transformational Generative Grammar', the 'Chomsky Hierarchy' and more recently, the 'Minimalist Program'. Secondly, he has contributed in political activism, widely publicising his ideas and critiques within a libertarian socialist and anarcho-syndicalist paradigm. Chomsky's academic success has only been matched by the controversy of his anti-establishment political views.

First, we should look at Chomsky's contributions to Linguistics. His contributions focused largely on 'biolinguistics', i.e. where the basic structures of language are thought to occur innately within all human beings. This is the basis of his 'Universal Grammar' (UG) theory, where he posits that people of all cultures and groups around the world possess a universal grammar that allows them to make sense of languages they are exposed to at a young age. At its core is the assumption that all languages worldwide are based on a finite set of universal rules, a.k.a. grammar and that it is through this shared grammar that a small child is able to rapidly piece together language they are exposed to. Similarly, with the 'Chomsky Hierarchy', Chomsky expands on his idea of UG, by setting out how all grammar fits into a single set, within which there are different subsets that can across contexts. In this way, Chomsky shows a tendency most common with the worldview of Alpha, the view that a system of finite principles and laws (L) can be formulated that applies across all scenarios and contexts (I), i.e. that a grand theory can make sense of everything.

A bi-product of this attitude is certain rejection of the viewpoint that theoretical structures are subject to empirical falsification. Indeed, UG makes a bold claim in saying that all languages hold to the same basic structure, despite there evidently being large amounts of variation. It is notable that little in the way of concrete specifics have been given for his theory, making his position hard to falsify. The one statement he did make was that recursion, i.e. the nestling of phrases within phrases, was the single most important part of UG. Challenges have been made to Chomsky's claim, with Everett drawing attention to the Pirahã language, which is thought to lack the recursion thought to be universal. It is worth noting that Chomsky has dismissed this claim out of hand, despite lacking the means to properly investigate it. In addition, when faced with the possibility that his claim about recursion could be falsified, he says this:

"Universal Grammar permits such exceptions. There is no problem. As Pesetsky puts it: "There's nothing that says languages without subordinate clauses can't exist.""

What this suggests is someone who is inclined to avoid the falsification of their positions, and argue that their structure holds, even when the evidence does not neatly fit the system. While L seeks to maintain a consistent understanding based on a unifying structure, P focuses on continuously updating one's knowledge in order to have an understanding that best reflects available evidence. Chomsky's response to the possibility of exceptions to his rule is quite typical of P7, trying to make his structure harder to falsify or to dismiss the gravity of exceptions to his rule, rather than intending to change the structure itself in line with factual evidence.

With 'Transformational Generative Grammar' (TGG), Chomsky makes distinctions in our language between 'surface structure', i.e. our spoken utterances, and 'deep structure', i.e. underlying relations between words and conceptual meaning. Chomsky posits that TGG is the means by which the 'deep structure' is converted into the 'surface structure'. In this way, Chomsky builds a basic framework for language use. Again, we see a ready attempt to explain language through sorting it into distinct parts of categories, once again a regular use of L. Furthermore, these categories are consistently abstract and conceptual in nature, again suggesting L+I.

It is notable that Chomsky's ideas are regarded as 'revolutionary' and 'paradigm-shifting' in the field of linguistics, taking it forward to scientific recognition. In this regard, we can see that the Chomsky's use of system-building, in the form of L+I is very strong. Knowing that L+I is also valued in Alpha, one can assign it to an Ego usage. With an already identified P7, we can deduce L1 and I2.

Regarding politics, Chomsky is known for the consistency of his views, which have not changed over time. They are also consistently of a certain school of thought, namely anarcho-syndicalist and libertarian socialist. This lends further credence to the hypothesis that he is L1, as consistent and confident fidelity to ideology is common for these types. 

Most apparent in Chomsky's politics is the consistent criticism of force or coercion by governments on people. In contrast to Mahatma Gandhi (IEI) who recognised submission to the force of others as means of nationalist revolution, Chomsky speaks out against force and power inequalities from any and all sources for which he feels there is sufficient evidence, condemning violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Turkish oppression of Kurds, supporting Tamil self-determination and being an outspoken opponent of the death penalty as a lawful punishment. In his view, any use of force is tantamount to 'terrorism' and as such, western capitalist countries can be seen as the greatest terrorists. Similarly, Chomsky is critical of violent revolution, seeing it as only as a means of avoiding 'greater terrorism'. As such, he has been similarly critical of other left-wing ideologies, such as Stalinism. In this regard we see a blanket rejection of any use of force, with little attention to nuance and circumstance; a world-view quite consistent with the pacifistic F4. This is supported by Chomsky's own tendency to criticise even people who could be a danger to his well-being, making powerful foes. His regular criticism of American foreign policy even led to the Nixon administration placing him on their 'list of enemies'. This lack of ability to assess what people could do to him if he criticises them suggests yet more weakness in F.

Chomsky also possesses a general antipathy towards capitalism, seeing it as the selfish pursuit of material enhancement. Instead, his writings tend to place in a positive light the work of collectives to protect the liberties of all. This focus on community as the source of liberty suggests someone who values inter-dependence in society, rather then independence, suggesting valued E. In addition, Chomsky tends to appreciate his peers based on whether they agree with his views or not, with Stephen Pinker noting his tendency to see those who disagree with him as 'stupid' or 'evil'. In this regard, Chomsky clearly identifies with people based on their logical positions, rather than on judgements of their personal character, suggesting the valuing of E & L, rather than R.

However, Chomsky is known for being a rather dry, monotonous speaker, lacking due focus on making his speeches entertaining to listen to. In addition, his manner of addressing his critics frequently lack attention to making his words palatable, resulting in him rubbing many people the wrong way. In this regard, it is safe to say that his E is very weak. Consequently, E5 fits.

To conclude, we can see clear Alpha values in Noam Chomsky, of which E is most absent. His approach to analysis of linguistic structures and politics strongly suggests L1, I2, F4, E5 and P7, making LII the most likely type for him.

To read more about LII, click here.

If you are confused by our use of Socionics shorthand, click here.


Wikipedia article

Angry Words - Chomsky vs. Everett


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I find the argument for P7 shaky. Rejecting Everett's claims about Pirahã and recursion are well justified by the fact that his own fieldwork contradicts it. To conclude that Chomsky is “ignoring empirical evidence” in rejecting Everett is to misunderstand that the empirical evidence does not even support Everett.

    I also wonder, doesn’t

    >Chomsky tends to appreciate his peers based on whether they agree with his views or not, with Stephen Pinker noting his tendency to see those who disagree with him as 'stupid' or 'evil'

    sound somewhat Gamma?

    I can say though, having listened to a Chomsky lecture, that the comments on his weak E are apt.

  3. <- this article goes through the evidence provided by Everett. It's not that I believe Everett necessarily has the evidence to disprove Chomsky's theory of Universal Grammar, although the matter certainly has not been settled. Instead, what is notable is that Chomsky 1) makes no attempt to falsify his own theory and 2) with his one concrete statement that could make his theory falsifiable being challenged, does all he can to dismiss the position as false without due investigation. After this, he comes to the position that even if his one concrete statement about his Universal Grammar COULD be falsified, it would not matter. That is rather P7 to me.

    Well, Gammas are R+F, so they are inclined to harsh judgements based on a person's character, based on their deeds. Note that I am not saying Chomsky does this. Instead, I am saying that Chomsky is appreciated/disregarding people based on whether they have the same understanding of the world as he does (L). That's very different to a judgement of their character (R). Gammas are usually comfortable in an environment of disagreement, but regardless of whether people agree or not, they will place distance between themselves and those individuals they personally dislike.

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