Physical and Abstract in Linguistics, a reply to Postal 'Chomsky's Foundational Admission'
Shanti Ulfsbjorninn
July 2012

Postal (2012) claims in a piquant but interesting article that the biolinguistics framework is incompatible with the nature of natural language as elucidated by a selection of Chomsky’s quotations. Postal claims that sentences and grammar are abstract objects in the platonic sense of forms, and as such it would constitute a category error to attempt to explain them with the physicalist framework of linguistic biology. We will find that Postal’s (2012) critique of the biolinguistics project is flawed for the following reasons: a) Contrary to his assertion, in order to know it is not necessary for a knower to know an object external to the knower. We know many objects which exist only in the mind (the taste of strawberries, beauty) and would have no objection to mental properties related to these being studied in line with evolutionary psychology. b) I think that according to Plato, a biologist should not even study gazelle, let alone language, because all study of the physical leads to the forms anyway, this is because the abstract forms are all that is real. c) Sentences are not forms in the platonic sense, at least in my understanding of the platonic sense of form: sentences should in fact be seen as extension rather than abstract objects, and, in any case, biolinguistics is not concerned with the status of sentences. d) Postal’s definition of physical and abstract do not correspond with notions of physical and abstract in physics, so we should not use these concepts to limit biological application to linguistics. On a general note, it appears to me that if Postal’s biological criticism, if valid, would halt a lot of work on evolutionary psychology.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/001572
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Published in: living room
keywords: philosophy, biolinguistics, abstract, plato, concepts, platonism, syntax, chomsky, chomskyʼs foundational assumption, semantics, syntax
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