Comprising lectures on distinctly separate topics, this short volume skims the surface of the diversity and complexity of...

Chomsky (Emeritus, Linguistics and Philosophy/MIT; Because We Say So, 2015, etc.) reflects broadly on the nature of language, the limits of human cognition, and our role as social creatures in furthering the common good.

This book collects lectures delivered by the author at Columbia University, spanning the fields of theoretical linguistics, cognitive science, political philosophy, and more. In the first chapter, Chomsky proposes that, despite a general feeling to the contrary, language evolved primarily as an instrument of thought, and he labels its externalization in speech and sign language as ancillary. Reframing language as a part of our biology, much like the eye, the author touches on generative grammar concepts that he developed in the 1950s. Chomsky delves next into philosophy of mind, specifically “the new mysterianism,” a philosophy that proposes the existence of “problems,” questions human beings are able to solve, and “mysteries,” the solutions to which lie outside the bounds of human cognition. He uncovers examples in scientific history, returning repeatedly to Isaac Newton’s unwillingness to speculate on the specific nature of gravity, the mysterious force with which objects appear to act upon one another at a distance. Turning his attention to social matters, Chomsky indicts the systems that profess social truisms in theory but reject them in practice. He cites American participation in the repression, torture, and execution of political dissenters in Latin America during the late 20th century before locating the seeds of American plutocracy in the intentions of the Founding Fathers and ending this chapter with a discussion of libertarian ideals. The writing is academic in its tenor, referencing throughout the work of philosophical luminaries such as David Hume, John Locke, Joseph Priestley, and many more. As such, general readers may find the text opaque and the narrative flow disconnected.

Comprising lectures on distinctly separate topics, this short volume skims the surface of the diversity and complexity of Chomsky’s expertise.

Pub Date: Dec. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-231-17596-8

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015



This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955


A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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