Chomsky vs. Skinner

Chomsky’s review of Skinner’s Verbal Behavior, with a 1967 preface that starts:

Rereading this review after eight years, I find little of substance that I would change if I were to write it today. I am not aware of any theoretical or experimental work that challenges its conclusions; nor, so far as I know, has there been any attempt to meet the criticisms that are raised in the review or to show that they are erroneous or ill-founded.

I had intended this review not specifically as a criticism of Skinner’s speculations regarding language, but rather as a more general critique of behaviorist (I would now prefer to say “empiricist”) speculation as to the nature of higher mental processes.

B.F. Skinner (1977) “Why I am not a cognitive psychologist”. (Feb. 13, 2016: After reading this, I’m thinking that the Chomsky-Skinner debate is in some ways tangential to my goal: to discuss how the mind should be modeled, rather than whether it should. The “why” question should be answered by the results. I’ll likely start instead with Minsky – Rosenblatt, and bring in language, and Chomskyan linguistics, as the main challenge that arose, and continues to arise, for purely associative models). (Sept. 7, 2016 I’ve just come across a passage in Elman et al.’s Rethinking Innateness where they argue against categorization of connectionism as a form of behaviorism, and point out that Hebb was anti-behaviorist).

Cited in this piece on Chomsky-Skinner:

“A claim that some people have made is that our models appear to share much in common with behaviorist accounts of behavior … [but they] must be seen as completely antithetical to the radical behaviorist program and strongly committed to the study of representations and process” (Rummelhart & McClelland, 1986, p. 121).

The abstract from Schlinger (2008):

The year 2007 marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of B. F. Skinner’s Verbal Behavior, a book that by Skinner’s own account was his most important. The received view, however, is that a devastating review by a young linguist not only rendered Skinner’s interpretation of language moot but was also a major factor in ending the hegemony of behaviorism in psychology and paving the way for a cognitive revolution. Nevertheless, in taking stock of Verbal Behavior and behaviorism, both appear to be thriving. This article suggests that Verbal Behavior and behaviorism remain vital partly because they have generated successful practical applications.