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Chomsky vs. Skinner: In Their Own Words

Noam Chomsky & B.F. Skinner

In 1957, B.F. Skinner published the book Verbal Behavior. In 1959, a young linguist named Noam Chomsky published a review of that book that sharply criticized Skinner’s behaviorism in general and his behavioral approach to language acquisition in particular. Chomsky’s review became arguably more influential and well-known than Skinner’s book, and it played a key role in the “cognitive revolution” that soon came to dominate both psychology and linguistics.

The debate between the pragmatism of Skinner and the structuralism of Chomsky continues to this day. Now hear directly from both men, in a series of archival interviews and speeches spanning several decades, as they address the philosophical and practical differences between their approaches. Topics addressed include:

  • Verbal behavior, linguistics, and language acquisition
  • Structuralism
  • Morality
  • Nature vs. nurture
  • Fascism and racism
  • Rule-governed behavior
  • Universal grammar

Based on a video originally edited and posted to YouTube by Ariel Raphaeli in 2012.

Burrhus Frederic Skinner (March 20, 1904 – August 18, 1990) was an American psychologist, behaviorist, author, inventor, and social philosopher. He was a professor of psychology at Harvard University from 1958 until his retirement in 1974.

Avram Noam Chomsky (born December 7, 1928) is an American public intellectual: a linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, social critic, and political activist. Sometimes called "the father of modern linguistics", Chomsky is also a major figure in analytic philosophy and one of the founders of the field of cognitive science.

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