Twenty or thirty years ago, you held a since much circulated debate with Michel Foucault, in which the existence of any overarching human nature arose. You suggested there was such a thing, and yet Mr Foucault was of the belief that “human nature” is always shaped by existing power structures, socio-historical contexts, etc. When pressed to name an aspect or trait of underlying human nature, you were unable to do so, leaving some critics to suggest Foucault “won” the argument (as though that were possible to begin with). In the years since, have you given this question more consideration? Would you answer differently were it posed today?
Chomsky: If human beings are part of the organic world, then they have a genetically-determined nature, and we all know that that is true: they have mammalian rather than insect visual systems, a language capacity that we know a lot about and that is entirely missing in other organisms, and far more. The informal and mostly confused discussions about “human nature” have to do with such matters as tendencies towards violence vs cooperation, etc. About such matters little is understood, just as complex issues about other organisms are little understood. Or for that matter about the inorganic world. But that the answers are heavily conditioned by genetic endowment is not seriously in doubt. Continue reading