Language as Vision: The Ocularcentrism of Chomskyan Linguistics
Correspondingly, Chomsky is perhaps the post-war linguist most focused
on clarity, light, space and vision. While a range of figurative expressions
characterize generative discourse, ocular metaphors are assigned a place
of particular importance. It might be said that the generativist vision
of language has been articulated primarily in the language of vision.
It has tended to be heavily “ocularcentric”, to use the term coined by
Martin Jay. The assumption that
language exists primarily as something visible; that it can be represented
in terms of comparisons with various forms of visual phenomenon, and that
linguistic analysis can be understood as a kind of visual perception,
has been integral to the objects, concepts, data and methodologies that
characterize generative inquiry, and is deeply embedded in its conceptual
logic. This tendency has shaped the field’s predominant “ways of seeing”
language, and in particular its treatment of grammar.
1.1 Examples of Chomsky’s Vision-Centered Vision of Language
Chomsky’s discussions of rationalism are typically used to introduce one of the central claims of generative linguistics, namely that language is an innate faculty of the human mind. Chomsky’s arguments about the innate character of linguistic knowledge turn repeatedly on references to and analogies with vision. His argument for the plausibility of innateness rests on establishing that vision constitutes a particularly compelling example of an innate, biologically based cognitive faculty, and that important similarities exist between language and vision. From his earliest works to his latest writings, Chomsky uses ocular metaphors and references to support the innateness hypothesis. In Aspects of a Theory of Syntax he writes that “on the basis of the best information now available, it seems reasonable to suppose that a child cannot help constructing a particular sort of transformational grammar to account for the data presented to him, any more than he can control his perception of solid objects or his attention to line and angle.” (Aspects, 59.) In Reflections on Language Chomsky’s arguments for innateness are based on a series of references to the nature of visual perception: the “wired-in” character of the visual system; the inbuilt ability of the infant perceptual system to understand various aspects of 3-dimensional space; the notion that an innate “grammar of vision” may be built into the human nervous system (Reflections, page 8.) In Rules and Representations Chomsky states that the language faculty may be thought of as an innate “mental organ” analogous to the human visual system (39). In Language and Thought he asserts, “the child’s language ‘grows in the mind’ as the visual system develops the capacity for binocular vision.” (page 29). In a recent interview in which Chomsky outlines the main components of his theory of language, most of his major points are made through examples, comparisons, or research having to do with visual perception. On the issue of innateness, Chomsky writes:
The development of linguistic ability is described as activated through the triggering effects of experience, or, in Chomsky’s later work, as the setting of parameters. This process of development is also described and supported largely in terms of parallels with visual development. For example, in Reflections on Language Chomsky argues that development takes place via the triggering effects of external stimuli on innate faculties. Chomsky’s argument for this position is constructed through references to work on the development of visual perception. He writes that “work of the past years has shown that much of the detailed structure of visual experience is ‘wired in’, though triggering experience is required to set the system in operation”. (Reflections, page 8.) In Aspects of the Theory of Syntax Chomsky uses figures and examples that center on visual perception to describe the role that exposure to the environment has on the triggering of language acquisition. For example, when arguing that exposure to language is entirely “peripheral” to linguistic development, Chomsky draws on parallels between the role learning plays in the acquisition of language, and the role it plays in the “acquisition” of vision in humans and in animals. He writes:
And when Chomsky takes up the issue of the triggering effects of the environment in Rules and Representations, he turns once again to the example of visual development. He writes that the factors that shape the development of language “are on a par with the factors that determine that a child will have binocular vision”, in the sense that both language and vision:
The description of language development in terms of visual analogies
is common not just in Chomsky’s work, but also in the wider generative
literature. Consider, for example, Smith’s argument for the viability
of a Chomskyan theory of linguistic development:
Smith’s discussions of acquisition, linguistic development, and learning
are couched in similar terms. Smith argues we no more “learn” language
than we “learn” how to see, and uses a series of analogies with visual
perception to construct a distinction between the development of innate,
internal abilities, and the development of abilities derived from external
stimulation. In a statement that typifies Smith’s treatment of language,
he writes: “In vision, the contrast between developing stereoscopic vision
and learning to identify different kinds of moth is clear; in language
the contrast between acquiring the principles of binding theory and learning
the vocabulary of biochemistry is similarly not in dispute.” (133)
Chomsky frequently supports the theoretical approach taken by generative linguistics via analogies with hypothetical theories of vision. For example, Chomsky states that a generative theory of language is similar to a theory of visual perception in that both do not concern themselves with evidence taken from the intuitions or self-report of particular subjects, but must instead focus on what the subject “actually” knows or sees:
Furthermore, Chomsky supports key aspects of his theoretical framework (idealization, abstraction, “systematic ambiguity” between theoretical and physical objects, the use of small amounts of data taken from introspection) via analogies and examples of how various studies of vision might, in principle, proceed. For example, in Rules and Representations he writes:
Chomsky presents hypothetical studies of vision in order to legitimate
the methodological principles adopted by generative linguistics. He assumes
that the study of vision is a natural analogue to the study of language,
and that methodological choices that are legitimate in the study of vision
therefore apply also to language. When defending the practice of abstraction
and idealization Chomsky turns to visual analogies particularly often.
The quotation below captures this rhetorical move nicely:
Throughout Rules and Representations, the text from which the
above two quotations are taken, issues concerning what is properly scientific,
what are adequate theoretical assumptions, and what the proper methodological
framework for the study of language ought to be, are discussed in terms
of figures, comparisons and hypothetical studies concerning vision.
One of the most characteristic aspects of Chomskyan linguistics is the way it constructs a fundamental isomorphism between language and vision, an alignment that works to superimpose research on vision with generative research on language, and vice versa. This alignment takes many forms. To begin with, Chomsky singles out research on vision as the only other area of the cognitive sciences that has had success that is comparable to generative linguistics’. Thus he writes: “In the specific empirical areas of the so-called cognitive sciences, some have been doing pretty reasonably, like the study of vision and the study of language”, and “there are pretty successful computational theories of, say, vision, and language…they achieve some pretty surprising things”. In considering whether “there other areas of human competence where one might hope to develop a fruitful theory, analogous to generative grammar”, Chomsky writes that one might “consider the problem of how a person comes to acquire a certain concept of three-dimensional space.” (Language & Mind, page 73.) Chomsky argues that visual processing is a prime candidate for being studied in a “similar way” to language, because the visual system operates in a way that is fundamentally akin to language (that is, vision is an innate system that develops “in a more or less uniform way on the basis of restricted data.”) Chomsky often talks about vision as if it is amenable to the kind of analyses carried out by generative linguists. Chomsky is thus particularly interested in the work of researchers such as Richard Gregory, who have argued that language and vision are based on common cognitive ground, and thus must be considered together. Chomsky cites Gregory’s work, and states that this work suggests that:
One of the most frequent analogies Chomsky’s makes involves drawing parallels
between language and the faculty (proposed to exist by some cognitive
scientists) that infants have for visually identifying faces. Chomsky
proposes that children possess an innate “grammar of faces,” and writes:
Some of the most explicit and extended comparisons between vision and
language occur in Chomsky’s discussions of the computational neurophysiologist
David Marr. Chomsky describes Marr’s work on vision as highly compatible
with his own research, as evidence for generative linguistics, and argues
that generative work on grammar and Marr’s work on vision constitute the
most advanced research in cognition. Chomsky reserves his highest praise
for Marr, calling his work “interesting”, “real science”, and “analogous
to what we are doing.” Chomsky
Chomsky argues that Marr correctly differentiates between levels of conceptual
analysis, just as his own theory does (and in stark contrast to Chomsky’s
critics, who Chomsky suggests unfairly criticize him in this regard.)
Chomsky notes that Marr’s research proposes that vision is innate, algorithmic,
and that the same kinds of restrictions on reflexive access to innate
knowledge characterize both vision and language. Both research programs
are strongly computational and focus on “real systems and their nature.”
(11) Chomsky often expresses a sense of kinship between his work and Marr’s.
He applauds Marr’s criticism of competing areas of AI that concentrate
on too “concrete a level” of analysis, or on human behavior rather than
on more conceptual/systemic considerations; he sympathizes with Marr’s
claim that scientific work on vision has neglected more abstract levels
of analysis, and in particular theoretical approaches that are computational
in character. Chomsky argues that the four levels of analysis described
by Marr provide an important methodological model for generative linguistics,
one that parallels and validates Chomsky’s own methodological choices.
Marr’s research is represented as homologous with Chomsky’s in terms
of scientific goals, approach, categories, concepts and methodology.
Marr’s work on vision thus functions as key exemplar, analogy and support
for generative linguistics.
As is often the case, the force of Chomsky’s counterargument rests largely
on an assumed equivalence between language and vision, and his critics’
failure to appreciate this. He consistently replies to criticism concerning
the methodological adequacy of generative linguistics (the focus on abstraction,
idealized conditions, data based on introspection, etc.) by comparing
the study of linguistic and visual systems. Chomsky argues that the same
issues arise in the study of vision, yet this isn’t considered a problem.
Since language is the same kind of object as the visual system, such criticisms
have no force for generative linguistics. Such a strategy is used throughout
the debates Chomsky conducts in Rules and Representations. For
example, Chomsky outlines the objections commonly leveled at generative
linguistics, and then argues for their irrelevance via an extended comparison
with vision. He concludes his discussion
with the following statement:
Chomsky’s rebuttal is predicated on the notion that the study of language and vision are largely equivalent when it comes to methodological considerations. Similarly, in response to Putnam’s objections to the generative concept of innateness and the marginal role assigned learning, Chomsky writes that ‘He [Putnam] makes the tacit assumption that language is cognitive in a way that vision is not, and hence that discussions of language have to meet additional criteria of adequacy.’ (172) In Knowledge of Language Chomsky engages the critiques of cognitivists who take a connectionist approach to the study of language and mind. Chomsky opposes the connectionist argument that preexisting structure and innate mechanism are not required in order to explain linguistic and cognitive structures. His frequent response to connectionist opponents consists of the counterargument that they cannot explain vision without reference to innate mechanisms and preexisting structure, yet they try to do with language. Since language is a system that is analogous to vision, such an approach must therefore be flawed. Chomsky argues against the relevance of functional approaches to linguistic inquiry with this memorable riposte: ‘The child does not acquire the rule by virtue of its function any more than he learns to have an eye because of the advantage of sight.’ (Rules and Representations, page 231.) And when arguing against the notion that language is something constructed by its users, Chomsky often fashions rebuttals in terms of analogies between language and the visual system. Thus in Rules and Representations Chomsky opposes constructivist theories (as suggested by Vico and Rorty) in the following terms:
For Chomsky, language is self-evidently the same kind of object as the visual system, and since we do not ‘make’ our visual faculties, it makes no sense to imagine language as socially constructed.
In general, vision is a central analogic figure in Chomsky’s writings.
His work is full of expressions that suggest fundamental parallels between
the visual and verbal domains. Often these parallels are broad (as for
example when Chomsky writes that research on vision “is highly suggestive
for the study of cognitive structures such as language”, or states that
when it comes to the biological development of the visual system, “comparable
conclusions seem to hold in the case of human language”.) Sometimes they are
specific (as for example when he outlines his computational approach to
grammar, then writes that “by parity of argument, a scientist studying
vision might develop a theory involving certain types of computation and
representation for the identification of objects in motion.”)
Ocular metaphors, examples, and analogies pervade Chomsky’s work, and
1.2 Chomsky’s Construction of Vision
1.2.1 Chomsky’s Understanding
of Vision is Cartesian and Computational
The passage is organized around the conceptual dualism “abstract/physical.” This dualism is developed through a set of parallel linguistic constructions that align language, vision and computation. Chomsky writes that language can be studied at two different levels (“abstract investigation of principles”, and “physical realization of processes”). He follows this with the assertion that vision can be studied in terms of “abstract components” and “physical mechanisms”, and that an automaton can be studied in terms of the “abstract program”, or in terms of “circuitry or mechanical principles”. The correspondence between language, vision and computation is constructed without any explicit comparison, but is achieved through parataxis. The degree to which Chomsky equates language, vision and computation is signaled by the fact that after introducing the topic of studying language at different levels of analysis, he then describes potentially parallel studies of vision and automata, without giving any explanation as to how these three realms are logically related. The examination of each object is merely juxtaposed, as if it is obvious that they are conceptually equivalent. Passages such as the one above, in which language, vision and computation are equated, can be seen as enthymemes, in both the Isocratean and Aristotelian senses of the word. Fahnstock notes that the Isocratean sense of the word “enthymeme” connotes a compressed recapitulation of assertions already explicit in previously argued material. Chomsky’s references to language, vision and computation often function this way – as a kind of short hand for a much larger, more explicit argument about language, mind, science, and methodology. The passage also functions as an enthymeme in terms of the more traditional meaning associated with the term. An Aristotelian “enthymeme” suggests a line of argument constructed from a truncated syllogism in which a mediating premise is left out. In the passage above, the missing premise involves the notion that language, vision and computational systems can in fact be treated as isomorphic. Many of the central arguments of generative linguistics can be formulated in the following terms: language is equivalent to vision; vision is a form of computation, therefore language can be understood as a computational system and all three objects can be studied in the same way.
Chomsky is attracted to the work on vision by his colleague at M.I.T.
in large part because it so closely echoes key aspects of the generative
paradigm. Marr’s approach to vision is heavily formal, algorithmic and
“embarked on a vigorous research program seeking computational insights
into the working of the visual system, putting them to the test of implementation
as computer models”. He
treats vision as an autonomous cognitive system, and maintains that within
this system there are different modules for computing different aspects
of visual information (Marr’s arguments about the modularity of cognitive
systems have been influential in cognitive science). His approach parallels
Chomsky’s, in that it focuses on the level of the theory of computation,
on internal representations and inner processing, and seeks an idealized,
purified version of the object of inquiry. Gardner writes that “just
as Chomsky wished to examine syntax in its pristine form (uncontaminated
by semantics or pragmatics), Marr wanted his analysis of visual processing
insulated as far as possible from the intrusion of ‘real world’ knowledge.”
Marr is heavily Cartesian; he emphasizes the abstract coordinate geometry
of visual perception, and focuses more on the computations that underlie
vision than their material manifestation in either physical or organic
“hardware”. And like Descartes, he equates external perception with mechanical
devices, assuming that both embody the same logic and can be studied in
similar ways. Marr’s work on vision thus functions as an important exemplar,
analogy and support for generative linguistics. Vision is the central
analogy, the root metaphor in generative linguistics, however it is vision
understood in largely computational terms, based on the example of writers
such as Descartes and Marr.
1.2.2 Problems with Chomsky’s Vision of Vision
More generally, the view of “the nervous system as a modular, information-processing
machine” has come under attack from connectionist and “dynamical systems”
approaches to cognition. For example, Thelen and Smith write that “recent
neurophysiology and developmental studies have turned this eminently plausible
[the modular-information processing paradigm] view on its head…studies
show vast and previously unimagined networks of interconnections both
within and among anatomically distinct areas. There is the primary sensory
organization within modalities, for example for color, form, and motion
in the visual system.”  They
write that there is
Chomsky has been consistently hostile to connectionist and dynamic accounts
of vision, cognition and language, continuing to ally his theory of language
with modular, information processing models.
1.2.4 Constructing Vision as ‘Generative’
When describing how language is comparable to vision, Chomsky constructs vision in terms of the language and categories of generative linguistics. A good example of this can be found in Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, where Chomsky argues that parallels can be drawn between vision and language with respect to the way development proceeds in infants. Citing the work of Held, Lemmon and Patterson on the visual development of children and newborn lambs, Chomsky writes:
Chomsky describes the work of Held, and Lemmon and Patterson as confirming his own hypotheses about the development of language. Yet he does this by extrapolating from their research, and by redescribing it in terms of the concepts and categories of generative linguistics. For example, nowhere do these researchers discuss “the development of a concept of visual space”, or of an animal’s “theory of visual space”. Nor do they argue that environmental stimulation exerts no influence on the development of a ‘concept’ of visual space. In a critique of Chomsky’s use of this research on vision, De Beaugrande argues that the three researchers in fact merely state that they observed the “facilitation” of development by external stimulation, and “not its irrelevance to some theory of visual space.” De Beaugrande argues further that “the scientific, biological finding does not support his [Chomsky’s] thesis except through his own non-biological interpretation,” and he accuses Chomsky of distorting the work he cites. While there is much truth to De Beaugrande’s charge, what is more interesting from a rhetorical perspective is the way Chomsky’s treatment of these researchers illustrates several key argumentative strategies. Chomsky constructs vision and the study of the visual system in terms of the conceptual framework of generative linguistics in order to be able to argue several things: that the study of vision confirms his research on language; that language is a cognitive faculty just like vision, and is amenable to the same kind of analyses; and that linguistics ought to model itself on the study of vision (which just happens to be a mirror-image of the generative approach to language). One can identify such rhetorical moves in a range of Chomsky’s writings. Consider, for example, this passage from Rules and Representations. Chomsky proposes that the study of language be modeled on the study of vision. He writes:
Chomsky quickly rejects (1) (a) as a viable topic of study, and proceeds to talk about an analysis of the visual system based on the other questions, spending most of his time on 1 (b). Chomsky writes that we ought to begin with “some characterization of the structure of the visual system at the abstract level”, and might then proceed to a set of questions about the “structure of the visual system”, how physical mechanisms relate to structure, development in the individual, etc. This is all couched in terms of the language of generative linguistics, as can be seen in the passage below:
The development of the visual faculty is discussed in terms of an “initial state”, “steady state,” and “final state,” familiar entries in the generative lexicon. It is said that “variation” in visual processing can be ignored. While the visual faculty is largely fixed, a person may produce novel visualizations and “learn” to see in new ways. Having described the study of vision in terms of the approach, methodology, categories, and questions posed within generative linguistics, Chomsky then proposes that linguistic inquiry ought to be modeled on the study of vision. That is, Chomsky argues that we should model linguistics on the study of visual systems represented in terms of the generative framework. After outlining what might be dubbed a “Chomskyan theory of vision”, Chomsky writes: “Suppose that we attempt to study language on the model of a bodily organ [the visual system], raising the questions (1a) – (1e).” (Rules and Representations, page 229.) Chomsky then outlines how the study of language might be based on the “model” provided by research on visual systems – that is, he describes the project of generative linguistics.
One of the main reasons that a visual metaphoric plays such an important role in generative linguistics is that Chomsky conceptualizes grammar largely in terms of knowledge, and he associates knowledge with vision. There is a long tradition in the West of representing knowledge in ocular terms. For Plato, true knowledge is modeled on an act of vision – that of ascending to a realm in which the essence of things can be clearly seen, or of seeing behind the surface of things in order to discover the underlying regularities. (Eidos and idea, the words Plato gives for the Forms, both derive from the verb idein, ‘to see’.) In the Phaedrus Plato describes true knowledge as “seeing that which is well ordered and ever unchangeable”; in the Meno Plato describes knowledge as anamnesis, or the recollection of the soul’s experience of seeing the Forms in their pure state. Aristotelian philosophy is similarly visualist. In the first sentence of the Metaphysics, Aristotle writes: “Of all the senses, trust only the sense of sight”, and he defines vision as the “most noble sense” because it is the faculty that most closely resembles and guarantees true knowledge. Dewey argues that in Western philosophy since Plato and Aristotle “the theory of knowing is modeled after what was supposed to take place in the act of vision”. Rorty writes that the “ocular metaphor seized the imagination of the founders of Western thought”, and a focus on knowledge of universal concepts contributed to make “the Eye of the mind the inescapable model for the better sort of knowledge.” (Rorty 1979, p. 38-39) Arendt echoes these claims, stating that ‘from the very outset, in formal philosophy, thinking has been thought of in terms of seeing…The predominance of sight is so deeply embedded in Greek speech, and therefore in our conceptual language, that we seldom find any consideration bestowed upon it, as though it belonged among things too obvious to be noticed.’ Martin Jay argues that vision is “the master trope of the modern era”. And in Wittgenstein’s later writings he considers how our language may predispose us to think about the world in visualist terms (“a picture held us captive. And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably.”)
Nowhere is the representation of knowledge and mind more strongly visualist than in Cartesian philosophy. The metaphor of the mind as inner vision is central to Descartes’ conception of knowledge and cognition, and figures prominently in Chomsky’s writings also. Descartes states, "We shall learn how to employ our mental intuition by comparing it with the way that we employ our eyes", and “when the mind understands, it in some way turns towards itself and inspects one of the ideas which are within it.” . Descartes represents knowledge as a purified internal vision situated in the mind that stands in contrast to an impure, external vision that operates through the body. Rorty notes that this distinction dates back to classical Greek philosophy, where knowledge of universals and particulars are talked about primarily in terms of two forms of vision. The “eye of the mind” is associated with “knowledge of the highest and purest things: mathematics, philosophy itself, theoretical physics, anything which contemplates universals.” By contrast, “the eye of the body knows particulars by internalizing their individual colors and shapes.”
Chomsky draws often on the work of Descartes and other rationalist writers to explain his understanding of knowledge and language. Chomsky writes that the rationalist account of knowledge, once updated and “purged of the error of preexistence” provides a fruitful and plausible framework for understanding cognition.  Chomsky talks of the rationalist assumption that the ‘natural light’ of common sense can lay bare the basic elements of human reasoning. (Reflections on Language, page 244).
Chomsky’s concept of knowledge is modeled on the visual perception of conceptual objects in a field of ordered, geometric, Euclidian space. The mind “sees” objects, parts and relations, and is predisposed to view these objects in terms of relationships of symmetry and proportion. Chomsky follows Descartes in assuming that there exists a “natural geometry of the mind”. He endorses Descartes’ notion that “the mind is so constituted that it constructs regular geometric figures as “exemplars” for the interpretation of experience.” (Rules & Representations, page 38). Chomsky writes:
There are thus as Chomsky puts it “first principles of geometry” that are internal to the mind – the mind both constructively envisions and makes visible objects of a certain orderly character, and inclines us to understand the objects we perceive with our external senses as ideals. Chomsky sometimes elaborates on this metaphor of the mind as a space of inner vision by drawing on another strongly optical metaphor, that of visually deciphering a piece of writing. For example, citing Cudsworth, Chomsky states in Reflections on Language:
of rationalist philosophy is frequently expressed in terms of analogies
with written language, and Chomsky follows figures like Descartes, Cudsworth
and Berkeley in this regard (I take up this aspect of Chomsky’s ocularcentrism
in more detail in chapter 5 of my dissertation, Rhetoric and Reflexivity
in Chomskyan and Cognitive Linguistics.)
Ocularcentric Construction of the Subject and Object of Knowledge
Chomsky associates ‘imperfection’, and deviation from the ideal, with the body, and with the requirement that language be voiced. He argues that the imperfections of language caused by its embodiment would disappear if humans communicated by telepathy - that is, without a body. The distorting effects of our physical embodiment mask the unity and singularity of the underlying language system. In ‘Minimalist Explorations’ Chomsky states that the sensorimotor system is ‘extraneous to language,’ a ‘nuisance’ that is ‘imposed by external systems,’ and that ‘the one unique computational process’ would become apparent ‘if we could think and communicate by telepathy.’ He jokes that ‘if you were God’ it would be obvious that the ‘imperfections’ of language result from the vagaries of its physical realization. That is, if one could occupy the perspective of God, for whom the perfection and design of human cognition is visible in its totality, or if we were unshackled from the distorting influence of the body (a condition often associated with the divine), we would be able to perceive the essence of human language. Later in this same text, Chomsky states that if we could approach language with the objectivity afforded a Martian, a being that has not experienced the cultural conditioning humans undergo, a comparable clarity of vision might be achieved. He writes that ‘Martians looking at humans would say there’s one language with a bunch of lexical exceptions.’ Similarly, in Language and Thought Chomsky writes that the ‘computational system’ underlying language is invariant, and it follows that ‘there is only one human language, as a rational Martian observing humans would have assumed’. (page 50.) In “Language and Mind: Current Thoughts on Ancient Problems,” Chomsky writes:
And in “Models, Nature and Language” Chomsky states:
Chomsky argues that we are confused by the
existence of different languages and by variation in language use because
we cannot adopt the proper perspective that will allow us to see the object
as it really is. The ‘view from outer
space’ presumably enables the hypothetical Martian to see through the
surface irregularity and variation of language. A Non-terrestrial
Being that is outside human history, culture, and social life, free of
earthbound attitudes and prejudices, able to observe human language from
a privileged, culturally ‘uncontaminated’ perspective, would see that
there is only one underlying language system.
Ong makes a congruent argument, stating that “of all the senses sight is the most distancing sense: it requires always that eye and object be removed to a considerable extent from one another.’  Sight is also considered the most disengaged sense, the least attuned to temporality and the body. The externality of sight allows the observer to avoid contact with the object of perception. Vision is thus the sense most associated with objectivity and disengagement. Keller and Grontkowski state:
Houlgate notes that Dewey’s critique of the spectator theory of knowledge centers precisely on the assumption of disengagement, on the idea that ‘the aim of philosophical or scientific inquiry is to come to know reality - as we seem to do in vision - without in any way interfering with it or modifying it through practical activity.’ In Chomskyan linguistics the ideal knowing subject is represented as an all-seeing, all-knowing observer who occupies a ‘view from nowhere,’ and above all, who is disengaged and objective. The perspective of God, a Martian, and the child is deemed perfect precisely because it is knowledge that is removed from the world.
Vision has been constructed
as the sense which registers objects of perception instantaneously. Visual
metaphors for knowing suggest immediacy, unity, and unmediated access
to reality. Rorty states that ocular theories of knowledge seem
to offer the hope of an ‘immediacy which would make discourse and description
superfluous.’ (Rorty 1993, p. 375) Visual metaphors for knowing are frequently
used to repress the role of language in knowledge production and suggest
that understanding can proceed in an essentially unmediated way. Ocular
metaphors efface the importance of rhetoric and reflexivity by suggesting
that knowledge occurs instantly, at a glance, unmediated by language.
Ocularcentric discourses tend to background the metaphorical status of
vision (Derrida writes that with ‘photocentric’ discourses description
is conflated with, or projected onto, the object it is supposed to understand,
and that as a result ‘structure becomes the object itself.’)
Correspondingly, Chomskyan linguistics is characterized by a constant
drive to establish immediacy and efface signs of constructedness and mediation.
It seeks to escape the need for language to talk about language. This
rhetorical imperative depends on the conflation of the theoretical object
and the ‘natural’ object, on closing the gap between the object and the
language used to represent it. Chomsky represents knowledge in terms
of inner vision and in terms of the act of observation by a transcendental
subjectivity. In each case knowledge is immediate, disengaged, disembodied
and unmediated. Furthermore, the subject and object are once more aligned
by making the act of knowing and the object of knowledge similar in many
key areas. Knowledge and the object of knowledge are described primarily in terms of
vision, and both in their ideal form are dematerialized, immediate, unmediated
and noncorporeal. This tendency is also identifiable in Chomsky’s discussions
of the essence of language understood as a form of telepathy - which if
not exactly a form of vision, is associated with the same qualities attributed
to vision. As telepathy, communication is unmediated, transparent, disembodied
and immediate. The properties typically assigned vision are associated
with pure communication understood in terms of pure thought. In generative
linguistics perfect knowledge thus mirrors perfect communication - a disembodied
eye can perceive disembodied communication in its essential form.
In passages like
the one above the universality and certainty commonly attributed to visual
perception is associated with language in order to authorize generative
linguistics and naturalize the object of inquiry. Chomsky’s frequent
appeals to the certainty of visual perception and the visual system thus
function as what Potter et al call an “undeniability device.” That is,
references to vision constitute rhetorical strategies designed to establish
beyond any doubt the existence of a brute reality, something external
to talk, discursively unmediated. Like hitting the furniture, kicking
a rock, invoking death, power or the Holocaust, Chomsky’s statements about
the distribution of objects in ‘perceptual space’ (in other words, the
undeniability of what we see) are used to establish that which cannot
be denied, a bedrock nonverbal reality that is present, self-evidently
true, an ultimately trustable form of experiential realism. Potter et
al analyze some of the most common undeniability devices, arguing that
each inevitably fails in its attempt to escape representation. For example,
they examine the ‘furniture argument’ (“The realist thumps the table.
What a loud noise! Much louder than talk. Much more gritty. Much more
real. And yet we insist that this noise, being produced in this
place, at this time, in the course of this argument, is
an argument, is talk”)
sometimes invoked by realists. They write:
to the undeniability of visual perception might similarly be dubbed “the
Vision argument.” References to vision function to shield the ‘more vulnerable
entity’ of language, to establish its certainty, its status as a bedrock
nonverbal reality that is present, self-evidently true, discursively unmediated.
Chomsky asserts that objective knowledge
would reveal a single, universal conceptual system that underlies and
is reflected in language. The universality of the conceptual and linguistic
system is suggested through the example of German and English words for
the concept “tree.” What is interesting about the example is that like
many other arguments for conceptual universals, it focuses on an individual
noun, one denoting a physical object with concrete physical characteristics,
and which in many contexts of use connotes availability to visual perception.
The plausibility of Chomsky’s example rests on an implicit appeal to the
universality of thought and language understood in terms of visual perception.
Chomsky does not consider a word expressing process, sensation, or some
culturally specific practice or expression.
His example presupposes that when an English speaker hears the word “tree,”
s/he has in mind a mental image that can be compared and found equivalent
to the German word “baum”. Chomsky thus assumes that words and sentences
function primarily as pictures, rather than as the later Wittgenstein
would argue, as tools integrated into the fabric of human action and life.
His example presupposes Aristotle’s visualist dictum that “words are the
image of thought”,
and Wittgenstein’s remark that “the proposition is a picture of reality.”  Such a model of language
clearly depends on an assumed equivalence between thought, knowledge and
vision – if, for example, we imagine thought and knowledge in terms of
an alternative set of modal metaphors, the plausibility of such a universal
linguistic and conceptual system appears less convincing.
The universality and certainty that appears attributable to a sentence
like “the sky is blue” proceeds via assumptions about what we all ‘see’
(consider how less persuasive this appears if based on an appeal to what
we all taste, feel or smell.) Becker’s interrogation of semantic and
conceptual universality foregrounds the weaknesses of Chomsky’s visualist
faith in a single, universal conceptual
system underlying and reflected in language. Becker’s use of terms such
as ‘silence,’ ‘languaging,’ and ‘language games’ also suggests the availability
of a more dialogic, process-oriented, and less visualist idiom for describing
1.3.2 Language as Mirror of Mind
The essential function Chomsky assigns language is for it to be reflective, to operate as a mirror of cognition. Chomsky frequently associates language with specular imagery, with the notion that language is a “mirror” or “reflection” of the mind. Chomsky begins Reflections on Language by posing the question “Why study language?” He states that the most “compelling” answer to this question is “that it is tempting to regard language, in the traditional phrase, as ‘a mirror of the mind’”. This “temptation” is replaced almost immediately by conviction, when Chomsky writes that the innate character of linguistic knowledge, the poverty of stimulus available to activate this knowledge, and the unconscious nature of linguistic knowledge constitute evidence which leads him to the conclusion that “language is a mirror of the mind in a deep and significant sense.” (Reflections on Language, page 4.) And in Language and Thought Chomsky asserts that if, as he believes, the rationalist view of cognition is essentially correct, then “the structure of language can truly serve as a mirror of the mind, in both its particular and universal aspects.”  As Gasche notes, the language of reflection and mirroring has strongly visualist connotations, suggesting it does the action by which reflective surfaces throw back light, and display reproductions of objects in the form of images (Gasche, page 16). To represent language as a mirror of the mind is to constitute it as something knowable primarily in terms of vision, as involving relations of isomorphism, correspondence, transmission and reflection. Because language is defined as a reflection of Chomsky’s neo-rationalist, deeply ocularcentric model of knowledge and mind, it shares many of the same properties assigned to the mind.
There is a more complex and far-reaching sense in which relations of reflection and mirroring contribute to the visualist character of generative linguistics. This involves the profoundly specular relationship that Chomsky constructs between language, knowledge and cognition. Generative linguistics is predicated on the notion that language, mind, and knowledge all exist as mirror images of each other in a very strong sense. The faculty of human knowledge in its most general form is represented as reflected in the object of linguistic inquiry (knowledge of language), which in turn mirrors the condition of linguistic knowledge production by the generative linguist. That is, the acquisition and development of knowledge of language in a child, the acquisition and development of linguistic knowledge by the analyst, and the acquisition and development of human knowledge in general are all held to operate according to the same logic, and to mirror each other. Chomsky argues that we are biologically constituted in such a way that our minds see the true nature of reality because our minds partake of, and reflect (if used properly) this same reality. Chomsky argues for what he calls “epistemic naturalism”. This position, which Chomsky attributes to early modern rationalist philosophers, holds that epistemology is a mirror of biology, or more specifically, the structure of cognition. In support of this position Chomsky quotes Peirce’s statement that “man is provided with certain natural beliefs that are true because certain uniformities…prevail throughout the universe, and the reasoning mind is itself a product of this universe. These same laws are thus, by logical necessity, incorporated in his own being.” Chomsky closely follows Plato in this regard. Plato held that the mind is naturally inclined to mirror the nature of the ideal because both partake of the same substance. (Ballow writes that in Platonic philosophy “the soul’s cognitive processes reflect an extreme expression of the like-knows-like principle: it is able to recognize same and different sorts of being because it is also composed of them.” Ballow, p. 85.) In Chomsky’s writings we find an updated version of this position. He states: “our systems of belief are those that the mind, as a biological structure, is designed to construct. We interpret experience as we do because of our special mental design. We attain knowledge when the ‘inward ideas of the mind itself’ and the structures it creates conform to the nature of things.” Theory construction thus reflects the underlying structure of both the mind and the world. Quoting Peirce again, Chomsky writes:
Chomsky continues this line of argument by endorsing Descartes’ statement that theoretical inquiry is based on principles “imprinted on the soul by the dictates of Nature itself.” When it comes to constructing theories of all kinds, we are aided by the fact that our minds are naturally adapted to the task. With respect to scientific knowledge, Chomsky states “we might think of the natural sciences as a kind of chance convergence between aspects of the natural world and properties of human mind/brain, which has allowed some rays of light to penetrate the general obscurity” (Language and Thought, page 45.) Chomsky argues further that because scientists construct theories based on “degenerate” evidence, develop theories so quickly, are in general agreement as to the truth of theories, and often arrive simultaneously at particular theories, we must possess a “science forming capacity” that enables us to recognize “theories as intelligible and natural”. He writes:
The above quotation makes clear the extent to which Chomsky sets generative linguistics up as an ideal that is mirrored in a whole series of other domains. Generative linguistics is constructed as a grand model of how language, the mind, and the world exist in a relationship of correspondence, and this same model is argued to inhere in everything from scientific knowledge, to moral systems, to common sense (while generative linguistics is described as “analogous” to domains such as scientific theory production, suggesting confirmation of generative linguistics, it is in fact the case that Chomsky constructs these other domains in the likeness of generative linguistics, and then uses this “discovered” similarity as evidence for generative linguistics.) Learning, general human intelligence, and scientific knowledge are described in terms of the vocabulary and concepts of generative grammar. For example, the construction of scientific theory is represented as proceeding on the basis of “degenerate evidence”, the same term Chomsky applies to the acquisition of language. Chomsky proposes that theory construction is characterized by “poverty of the stimulus” (implying that knowledge of science must be innate), and that a “universal grammar” of scientific theories may exist. The Chomskyan system is summed up succinctly by Wittgenstein when he writes: “These concepts: proposition, language, thought, world, stand in line, one behind the other, each equivalent to each other” (PI, ∫ 96). True knowledge occurs when we can see that these realms are properly aligned, or as Chomsky puts it, when we can apprehend that “the inward ideas of the mind itself and the structures it creates conform to the nature of things.” Knowledge stands at the center of this hall of mirrors, reflected in language, the world and cognition, and assumed to function as a kind of vision.
Chomsky is led to this seemingly preposterous position in large part because of the epistemological dilemma opened up by his joint commitment to both rationalism and scientific realism, and his unwillingness to think about knowledge (particularly scientific knowledge) in terms of its existence in the social world. Chomsky’s rationalism invites the problem raised by Kant, that knowledge may be a projection of the structure of the mind, rather than a reflection of ‘Things-in-themselves’, and thus an unbridgeable gulf may exist between reality and our understanding of it. At the same time, Chomsky’s adherence to scientific realism requires that there be a secure correspondence between knowledge and the world. Chomsky’s solution is to argue that a miraculous ‘chance convergence’ exists between the structure of reality and the physical properties of the mind, such that scientific knowledge is naturally equipped to yield the truth. We can be confident that our scientific theories reveal the truth because they just happen to share and reflect the deep structure of reality. Language is assigned the job of doubling or guaranteeing knowledge, of occupying its proper place ‘in line’, as Wittgenstein puts it. This contributes to constructing language as something modeled on, and knowable primarily in terms of, a visual paradigm. And it leads Chomsky to imagine the limits of linguistic knowledge – and even all knowledge in general - in terms of what is and is not ‘visible.’
1.3.3 If Knowledge Is Vision, Then Understanding Is Limited To Those
Objects Amenable To Visual Perception
Chomsky states that he agrees with Kant’s argument that the “schematism
of our understanding”, when applied to “appearances” and “mere form”,
is something that “nature is hardly ever likely to allow us to discover,
and to have open to our gaze”. (156) Chomsky divides the field of linguistic
inquiry into what is knowable, which he associates with light, vision,
mechanism, and geometric form, and what is unknowable, which he associates
with darkness, blindness, and mutability. The knowable he calls “problems”,
the unknowable, “mysteries”. He writes:
Problems exist in a realm in which “the issues seem rather clear and straightforward”. Problems are ‘amenable to rational inquiry,’ whereas mysteries are not. Mysteries exist in a realm where “fundamental insights are lacking… [and] we are as much in the dark as to how to proceed as in the past.” (Reflections, page 138-9) While as human beings we might approach mysteries with “intuition and insight”, there is nothing we can say “as scientists”. (138)
Chomsky defines as mysteries such questions as “how do people succeed
in acting appropriately and creatively in linguistic behavior or performance?”
(Reflections, page 138). He also argues mysteries arise from the
fact that the mind is so designed that it cannot reflect on some of its
own processes. Chomsky writes that “the human mind is inherently incapable
of developing scientific understanding of the processes by which it itself
functions in certain domains.” (The
mind cannot, so to speak, view itself in the act of viewing.) Chomsky
argues that some aspects of the mind are accessible and can be reflected
on, and these are associated with the Cartesian ideals of clarity, distinctiveness,
regularity, and form – qualities that appeal primarily to the perception
of visual phenomenon. Those that cannot are associated with change, interconnection,
and dynamism. In Rules and Representations Chomsky adopts the
terms “chemical” and “mechanical” (originally used by Mill) to illustrate
the differences that exist between these contrasting aspects of the mind.
Quoting Mill on “the laws of the phenomena of mind”, he writes:
Chomsky associates interpenetration, dynamism, the lack of clear boundaries
and fixed units with “mental chemistry”, or that which cannot be known.
By contrast, the “mechanical” is associated with clarity, fixity, computation
and clear boundaries. Chomsky
writes that “where ideas are generated by mental chemistry, as distinct
from association on a mechanical model, it is presumably impossible to
resolve them into their constituents by introspection.” Chomsky represents
the limits of knowledge in terms of the mind’s ability to visually inspect
different kinds of conceptual object. Knowledge of the mind is the ultimate
goal of linguistics, and Chomsky describes one of the key means of achieving
this as “introspection” (the etymological roots of which are “looking
Chomsky describes not just of the mind, but also disciplinary knowledges
in terms of metaphors of vision and optics. The more scientific an area
of inquiry is, the more Chomsky associates it with light and vision.
For example, in response to the critiques of figures like Quine and Putnam,
Chomsky responds that such issues ought to be directed first at established
sciences before being leveled at generative linguistics. He writes that
‘questions of a fundamental nature should be raised where the hope of
gaining illumination is highest; in this case physics, not psychology.’
(Rules & Representations, page 22.) Speaking in broad terms about
the situation of linguistic science, he writes:
In an almost parodic version of Plato’s allegory of the cave (complete with a degraded version of anamnesis, in the form of a drunk struggling to find his keys) knowledge production is depicted as an essentially visual affair. Knowledge entails (re)discovering what was already there through a process of visual perception. Written at a moment in which the promise and centrality of the generativist project is in some question, Chomsky’s anecdote functions as an ironic statement of the difficulty, perhaps even the impossibility, of scientific linguistics. However, it also reveals the basic orientation toward the nature of linguistic inquiry found within generativism, the goals it aspires to and the fears it harbors. Scientific knowledge is characterized by the qualities of clarity, illumination and form, while other (nonscientific) fields are characterized by opposing qualities. To the extent that language is knowable, Chomsky assumes that it must be an object that conforms to the “natural geometry of the mind,” is regular, unified, definable primarily in spatio-visual terms, and amenable to being studied by the light of science.
As Chomsky has argued many times, if the underlying structure of language is in fact inextricably connected with social, normative and cultural factors then we are confronted with the opposite of science; with chaos, instability and darkness, and a field unworthy of study. Chomsky writes that if language is best described as a form of ‘bricolage,’ then the questions that drive linguistic inquiry “may have no interesting answers.’ It might be said that language as bricolage raises the specter of that which generative linguistics has systematically excluded or exiled from communication – fragmentation, incommensurability, temporal irreversibility, nonlinearity, practice, speech and the non-visual.
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I argue below, Chomsky’s ‘ocularcentrism’ is evident in texts he has
written throughout his career. If one wanted to identify a single text
where this tendency is most obviously identifiable, one might consider
 Levin, page 9.
 Jay, page 3.
 Mathematical knowledge is the second most frequently used argument for innateness. Comparisons between language and vision often include references to the ‘number faculty’ or ‘mathematical knowledge’, which Chomsky suggests are also innate. Thus in Rules & Representations he writes that like language, ‘the capacity to deal with the number system or with abstract properties of space is surely unlearned in its essentials.’ (p. 39). Note however that innate mathematical understanding is typically represented as having the apprehension of visual space as a central component. In Chomsky (1982) he states that “most of the history of mathematics is based on a very limited class of intuitions, intuitions about number and intuitions about visual space. Those things just seem to be inherent to human beings.” (23) Both faculties are described as part of the computational structure of the mind, or of the “capacity to deal with discrete infinities through recursive rules.”
 Chomsky, 1992.
 For example, Chomsky 1986, p.211: ‘The core...is the essential part of what is ‘learned’, if that is the correct term for this process of fixing knowledge of a particular language’.
 See in particular pages 5, 45, 71, 105, 219-231, 242-251.
 Language and Thought, pages 82 and 89.
 Rules and Representations, page 248.
 Huybregts et al, pages 9–10
 In texts such as Rules and Representations and Reflections on Language, in which Chomsky devotes a lot of space to his interlocutors, it is by far the single most common tactic used in responding to critics.
 The three most common ways in which counterarguments are dealt with in academic discourse are strategic concession (in which parts of an opposing author’s argument are accepted while others are rejected), refutation (outright rejection), and demonstration of irrelevance (in which opposing views are represented as not meeting the criteria of relevance defined by the author). When discussing methodological issues, Chomsky typically uses the last of these strategies. Methodological objections are defined as irrelevant because they do not apply to the study of vision, and since vision is analogous to language, these objections also do not apply to the study of language.
 For example, in Knowledge of Language Chomsky criticizes connectionist accounts of language, stating: “Again the refusal to treat the development of language as parallel in terms of its genetic determinants to the development of vision is left unmotivated.’(173)
 Another good instance of the way Chomsky uses visual analogies to argue against functionalist approaches to language can be found in Chomsky 1997b. Chomsky writes that a biologist ‘would not offer the functional design property as the mechanism of embryological development of the eye,’ and that ‘similarly, we do not want to confound functional motivations for properties of language with the specific mechanisms that implement them.’
 Rules and Representations, pp 229 - 232.
 Ibid, page 71.
 Olson and Faigley. "Language, Politics, and Composition: A Conversation with Noam Chomsky." Page 70.
 For Descartes, vision is an optical machine characterized by the internal operation of precise mathematical rules and geometric laws that result in the reconstruction of images within the mind. Walker and Chaplin note that “Descartes was the first to assert clearly that light was nothing but a mechanical property, and to mathematize it. Crucially, he displaced perception itself from the surface of the retina to the brain.” (Walker and Chaplin, page 43.)
 In chapter 5 of Werry (2002) I discuss the influence of computational models on Chomsky’s representation of 'inner processes.'
 Language and Mind, page 83. The full passage from Descartes
quoted by Chomsky is as follows:
When first in infancy we see a triangular figure depicted on paper, this figure cannot show us how a real triangle ought to be conceived, in the way in which geometricians consider it, because the true triangle is contained in this figure, just as the statue of Mercury is contained in a rough block of wood. But because we already possess within us the idea of a true triangle, and it can be more easily conceived by our mind than the more complex figure of the triangle drawn on paper, we, therefore, when we see the composite figure, apprehend not it itself, but rather the authentic triangle.
 These two different meanings of 'enthymeme' are discussed in Fahnstock, page 29.
 Chomsky’s frequent discussions of the methodological appropriateness of distinguishing between different levels of analysis in linguistic research owe much to Marr. And many examples and analogies involving vision echo remarks made by Marr. For example, when explaining how generative theories of language can simultaneously consider physical mechanisms, theoretical abstractions, and several other levels of analysis, Chomsky explains this in terms of a hypothetical approach to the study of vision. He writes:
‘In the same way, a theory of vision might be formulated in concrete terms, referring, say, to specific cells in the visual cortex, and their properties; or it might be formulated abstractly in terms of certain modes of representation (say, images or stick sketches), computations on such representations, organizing principles that determine the nature of such representations and rules, and so on. (Rules & Representations, page 5.)
This passage strongly echoes statements made by Marr in Vision: A Computational Investigation into the Human Representation and Processing of Visual Information. Even the reference to ‘images’ and ‘stick sketches’ recalls Marr’s work, as these are key terms that feature prominently in Marr’s account of the parsing of visual information. For a discussion of Marr’s work that helps illustrate some of the similarities between Chomsky and Marr, see Gardner, pp. 300-306.
 My discussion of Marr cannot begin to deal with the complex specifics of his work, but rather attempts to show in general terms how and why his work is attractive to Chomsky. My reading of Marr is based mainly on Gardner, Sterelny, Edelman and Vaina.
 Edelman and Vaina.
 Dreyfus puts the matter succinctly when he writes that ‘neurophysiology does not support information processing models’ of cognition. Dreyfus, 25.
 Nonrepresentational theories of vision have been proposed in cognitive science by researchers such as O'Regan, Noë, and Koch and Li. Congruent theories have been developed in the AI tradition of Active Vision by figures such as Gibson and Neisser.
 Myin, "Two theories of perception, meaning and language".
 Thelen & Smith, A Dynamical Systems Approach to the Development of Cognition and Action, page 187
 For example, in Language and Thought he writes that ‘connectionism is a radical abstraction from what’s known about the brain and the brain sciences…there’s no evidence for it.’
 These comments occur in respondents’ section of issue 3 of The Behavioral Sciences (1980), pp 21-42.
 Lakoff's critique appears justified. Consider, for example, the description of biology articulated by the Nobel prize winning molecular biologist Max Delbruck. He writes: “there are no ‘absolute phenomena’ in biology. Everything is time-bound and space-bound. The animal or plant or micro-organism he is working with is but a link in an evolutionary chain of changing forms, none of which has any permanent validity.” (Cited in Lanham, page 56.) Clearly such an understanding of biology contrasts significantly with Chomsky’s.
 Vision is a key point of difference between Chomsky and Lakoff theories of language, as I argue in more detail in Werry 2002. Chomsky thinks cognitive systems are separate, and that language as a cognitive system is largely separate from vision (He writes that ‘there seems little reason to suppose that the principles of grammar or universal grammar have any close analogue in other cognitive systems…just as we do not expect the fundamental properties of the visual system to be reflected in language. Confident assertions to the contrary, which are prevalent in recent literature, seem to me rather dogmatic as well as without empirical support or plausible argument.’ Rules and Representations, pp. 245-6.) Cognitive linguistics, by contrast, argues that cognitive systems are interconnected, and that the prime example of this is the way language reflects vision.
 In his more recent work Chomsky has begin to distance himself from Marr’s theories. He writes that Marr ‘was concerned with input-output systems… Language is not an input-output system.’ He also now rejects Marr’s ideas about separating levels of analysis. See Chomsky 1995a page 12; Chomsky 1995b; Chomsky 1999, page 397.
 It should be noted that Chomsky describes many objects and areas of study in terms of generative linguistics. For example, in an interview with Olson and Faigley, Chomsky proposes that a generative substructure underlies morality, mathematical ability, and the ability to read and write (pp. 77-78). The interview makes clear that for Chomsky, almost any regularity in human life seems to imply shared inner structure and innateness. However, this tendency appears most often in his discussions of vision.
 De Beaugrande, page 105.
 In many respects Chomsky’s use of language to describe vision can be seen as a second kind of ‘systematic ambiguity’ or systematic conflation of terms. As described in chapter one of Werry 2002, Chomsky constructs what he calls ‘systematic ambiguity’ between theoretical and biological object. This functions to naturalize language, to efface the manufactured character of linguistic discourse, and the role of reflexive practices in theory construction. The systematic ambiguity that Chomsky establishes between research on language and research on vision is not as explicitly stated, but functions in a similar way.
 Rules and Representations, page 227.
 A similar strategy can be identified in Chomsky’s discussions of face recognition in infants. In Rules and Representations Chomsky suggests that language and the visual perception of faces are analogous in that they both constitute “innate systems that deal with restricted data in a uniform way” (247). He proposes the idea of “an abstract theory of human faces,” and “a universal grammar of faces.” Chomsky describes the ‘innate’ faculty that infants have for visually recognizing faces in terms of generative grammar, and then uses this ‘faculty’ as evidence for generative grammar. See Rules and Representations, page 248.
 The argument that there is a spatio-visual bias in Western epistemology can be found in American pragmatism, hermeneutics, and in much post-structural theory. Some of the writers who have made this claim most strongly include Dewey, Bergson, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Arendt, Merleau-Ponty, Ong, Derrida, Jonas, Tyler, Jay, and Levin.
 The visual bias in Aristotle’s writings, and its implications for Greek thought is discussed in Hans Jonas’ ‘The Nobility of Sight: A Study in the Phenomenology of the Senses’, in The Phenomenon of Life: Toward a Philosophical Biology, 1982.
 Dewey, The Quest for Certainty, page 23.
 Cited in Levin, page 2.
 Jay 1993, page 114.
 Descartes, Regulae IX. Quoted in Keller & Grontworski, 1983, page 214.
 Descartes, The Philosophical Writings of Descartes. Edited by J. Cottingham, R Stoothoff, and D. Murdoch , page 112.
 Rorty 1979, pages 41 and 43. In Platonic philosophy both ideal and empirical knowledge involve vision. Plato distinguishes between knowledge acquired through visual perception (aisthesis) and knowledge seen by the mind’s eye (noesis). As I argue in Werry 2002, one way of thinking about the difference between generative linguistics and cognitive linguistics is in terms of the ‘Eye of the Mind’ and the ‘Eye of the Body’. Both theories involve strongly visual paradigms, but cognitive linguistics places far more emphasis on the bodily character of vision. Despite this apparent difference, the eye of the body is assigned many of the transcendental characteristics previously assigned the eye of the mind in generative linguistics.
 Reflections on Language, page 6.
 Reflections on Language page 6-7.
 Descartes 1984, page 106.
 Reflections on Language page 7. In passages such as this Chomsky’s conceptualization of knowledge closely resembles a Platonic one, but in ways that he perhaps does not fully anticipate. For as Derrida has argued, writing and vision are powerfully linked in Plato’s logocentric philosophy, and constitute what may be the founding metaphors of Western philosophy. (The best known discussion of this occurs in the chapter of Dissemination entitled 'Plato's Pharmacy'.) For Plato, true knowledge is modeled on an act of vision – that of ascending to a realm in which the essence of things can be clearly seen, or of seeing behind the surface of things in order to discover the underlying regularities. In works such as the Phaedrus the Philebus and the Timaeus, this knowledge is exemplified as a purified form of inscription (See for example the Phadrus 274ff, and the Philebus, 18ff.) The soul is described as coming to know the fundamental elements of the real in terms of the visual apprehension of written form. As Hoskin notes, in Plato’s dialogues the underlying regularity of the world (the “syllables of nature”) is described in terms of “stoicheia”, which refers simultaneously to writing and geometry. (Hoskin, page 39-40.) Vision, writing and geometry are at the center of Platonic philosophy, and they play a similarly important role in Chomsky’s work. Hoskin writes that in Plato we can identify a “whole alphabetic way of seeing”. As I shall argue in some detail later in this study, a “whole computational-scriptist way of seeing” lies at the center of Chomsky’s work, and this is an important part of why a visual paradigm is so strong in Chomsky’s writings. I take up the connections between ocularcentrism, machine metaphors and the influence of written models in generative linguistics in chapter 5 of Werry 2002.
 Chomsky, 1997a.
 Roy Harris argues that the assumption of telepathy, or ‘telementation,’ is a key part of what he terms ‘the language myth,’ a foundational set of assumptions about language that have persisted throughout much of linguistic history. This myth has three main parts: the isolatability of language as an object; its status as a fixed code, and its participation in telementation, or the transfer of thoughts from one mind to another. Harris subjects all three aspects of the language myth to a withering critique in The Language Makers, The Language Myth, and The Language Machine.
 This invocation of a God’s eye view capable of seeing the essence of language and mind contrasts strikingly with Wittgenstein’s statement that "If God had looked into our minds he would not have been able to see there whom we were speaking of.” PI, Part II, p.217e.
 Interestingly, in a seeming parody of Chomsky's invocation of the Martian view of language, Roy Harris has argued the exact opposite position. That is, he argues that even a telepathic Martian would have a different understanding of language from that of his/her human teacher since “language-using will always be integrated into the Martian’s existence in an ineradicably different way.” Harris 1990, p. 181.
 Chomsky 1988, p.28. The notion that the child is merely learning ‘labels’ for concepts already in place is in line with the ideal of telepathy in generative linguistics.
 In some of his works Chomsky presents another idealized figure able to grasp the essence of language, that of a hypothetical, ideal, “objective” scientist who approaches the study of language de novo. What is striking about this figure is the way that he naturally proceeds to intuit a generative theory of language based in large part on analogies and evidence drawn from the nature of the visual system. For example, in Reflections on Language Chomsky writes:
Imagine a scientist, henceforth S, who is unencumbered by the ideological baggage that forms part of our intellectual tradition and is thus prepared to study humans as organisms in the natural world. Let us consider a course of inquiry that S might undertake, sketching conclusions that he might tentatively reach along the way, and then confront S with some of the questions of methodology and principle that have been raised by a number of philosophers who have discussed the nature and goals of linguistic theory. (p. 139)
Chomsky suggests that S would infer the plausibility of rationalism and innate knowledge based on the evidence of the visual system and the ‘face-recognition module’ in infants. Having mapped the trajectory of S’s development in terms of the lessons learned from studying the visual system, Chomsky states that ‘in the case of grammar, similar remarks apply,’ (147) and proceeds to discuss how S might develop an analogous theory of grammar. Rather like the linguistic-cognitive development of the ideal speaker-hearer, the idealized theorist is described as naturally acquiring a theory of knowledge that is generative.
 Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals, Doubleday, 1956, page 255. Cited in Levin (1993) page 4.
 Rorty 1993, page 338 and 346.
 Chomsky's tendency to treat visual metaphors inscribed in everyday language as a neutral means of talking about knowledge and language, rather than as a particular figurative construction, is another example of the repression of reflexivity in generative linguistics.
 I draw here on the work of writers in many fields - cultural historians of the senses such as Classen and Synnott, theorists of visual culture such as Jay and Levin, analysts of orality and literacy such as Ong and Havelock, and philosophers of phenomenology, poststructuralism and American pragmatism, for whom the significance of visual metaphors in theoretical discourse is a common theme. It should be noted that many of these writers, most obviously Jonas, Ong and Jay, attribute intrinsic characteristics to different sense modalities. That is, they suggest that certain theoretical commitments follow inevitably from the choice of different sensory metaphors for knowledge. While I acknowledge that different senses perhaps provide different metaphorical ‘affordances,’ I do not assume that they have an essence that leads to a corresponding set of epistemological values. Thus while I draw on work that examines the relationship between visualist discourses and particular theoretical frameworks, I assume that vision can and has been culturally constructed in a variety of different ways, and that many different sense metaphors can be used to represent knowledge. For example, Tyler’s work on Dravidian languages and Handelman’s contrastive discussion of Hebrew and Hellenic metaphors for knowledge explore how some cultures use non-visual metaphors for knowledge. Snell’s arguments about early Greek representations of vision also suggest that sight can be constructed in ways that assume a different, less passive relationship between subject and object. And following Nietzsche, a number of poststructuralist writers have described knowledge in terms of a decentered, multi-perspectival, incarnate vision.
 Vesey sums up many of the most common values assigned sight in Greek and Western metaphysics: "Sight does not require our being part of the material world in the way in which feeling by touching does…The directness of seeing when contrasted with hearing, its non-involvement with the object when contrasted with feeling by touching, and its apparent temporal immediacy when contrasted with both feeling and hearing are features that may partly explain the belief that sight is the most excellent of the senses.” Cited in Keller and Grontwowski, page 221.
 Jonas, pp.513-518. Jonas, a student of Heidegger's, picks up many of the anti-ocular themes expressed in Heidegger's writings.
 Ong, 1977, page 138.
 The disembodiment and asceticism associated with knowledge as vision can be traced to Plato. Plato writes that in ‘despising the body and avoiding it, and endeavoring to become independent – the philosopher’s soul is ahead of all the rest…If we are ever to have pure knowledge of anything, we must get rid of the body and contemplate things by themselves with the soul by itself.’ (Phaedo 64d-66d) The pure visual contemplation that characterizes philosophical knowledge constitutes a radical flight from the body. Generative linguistics can thus be understood as the linguistic apotheosis of a venerable cultural tradition.
 Stephen Houlgate, ‘Vision, Reflection, and Openness: The Hegemony of Vision from a Hegelian Point of View’. In Levin 1993, page 87.
 Consider, for example, Russell’s description of language as ideal: ‘In a logically perfect language the words in a proposition would correspond one by one with the components of the corresponding fact…in a logically perfect language there will be one word and no more for every simple object, and everything not simple will be expressed by a combination of words…one word for each component. A language of that sort will be completely analytic, and will show at a glance the logical structure of the facts asserted.’ In its reliance on a visualist epistemology it resembles Chomsky’s representation of language as ideal.
 Writing and Difference page 15. Derrida writes that “the metaphor of darkness and light (of self-revelation and self-concealment) is the founding metaphor of Western philosophy as metaphysics . . . In this respect the entire history of our philosophy is a photology, the name given to a history of, or treatise on, light” (p. 27).
 Cited in Keller and Grontowski, p. 213.
 Reflections on Language, p. 71.
 Potter et al, p. 3.
 Consider, for example, the words used in East Cree to express states of mind and feeling. Junker discusses how many of these words are rooted in expressions having to do with the planning and skill required to trap an animal. It is not obvious that English or German speakers ‘reference the same concepts from the same inventory’ in such cases.
 De Interpretatione, 1, 16a.
 Tractatus, 4.01.
 If, for example, knowledge and thought were represented in terms of non-visual metaphors, metaphors suggesting process, embodiment, duration, particularity, and interaction between subject and object, then the universal conceptual/linguistic system Chomsky posits might appear less obviously plausible.
 In the final part of the study I take up the issue of how non-visual metaphorics, as well as different uses of visual imagery, might be used to approach the study of grammar. I explore how alternative theories of grammar which draw on non-visual metaphorics might provide the basis for a more reflexive, rhetorically-oriented understanding of grammar.
 Rorty 1980, p. 39. Italics In the original.
 Reflections, p.77. This is reiterated in the work of other Chomskyans. For example. Smith writes: ‘A major part of Chomsky’s achievement is to have opened up language for inspection and by so doing has opened a mirror onto the human mind’. (48).
 In generative linguistics language could perhaps be more accurately described as a mirror of a mirror, since Chomsky (along with many other writers within traditional cognitive science and artificial intelligence) bases his concept of cognition to a significant extent on models suggested by writing technologies, and in particular computers. Roy Harris’ analysis of Port Royal linguistics thus applies equally well to Chomskyan linguistics. Harris writes that ‘the explanation offered [of mental structures] is simply a reversal of the process by which the analysis itself was produced. What are hypothetically projected back into the mind as observable mental realities are abstractions derived from analysis of the observable verbal structures themselves’. (The Language machine, p. 27)
 This aspect of Chomsky’s work is closely related to the issue of reflexivity. As I argue in chapter 2 of Werry 2002, Chomsky continually seeks to close the gap between the object and language of inquiry in order to escape the contaminating mediation of language. One of the ways in which this is achieved is through the conflation of terms, and the “systematic ambiguity” constructed between different levels of analysis. Another way that Chomsky aligns the object and means of representation is by setting up language, the mind, and knowledge as mirror images of each other.
 Language Thought, page 32. Chomsky writes: “The epistemic naturalism of early modern thought appears to be quite reasonable, and is being rediscovered and given more substance in current empirical research.’ Fodor has made similar arguments, and ‘epistemic naturalism’ is also similar to Quine’s ‘naturalized epistemology.’
 Language and Mind, Page 96.
 See for example Timeaus, 37a-b.
 Keller and Grontowski explain this aspect of Platonic philosophy in the following terms: “the knower and that which is known…are essentially kindred. They are both parts of the whole of Being itself. Thus kinship with the universe and its structures constitutes Plato’s metaphysical presupposition. His epistemological assumption is that we, who were originally part of the lawful divine structure, are thereby in principle able to see (intuit) it fully again.” Page 212.
 The notion of ‘epistemic naturalism’ thus grants enormous authority to those doing cognitive research, since it is presumably they who are in the best position to decide whether a claim conforms to the underlying structure of the mind. Fuller, discussing the ‘epistemological naturalism’ of Quine and Fodor writes: “The conclusion is that only those beliefs are justified that are arrived at in a manner that conforms to the representation producing processes as pictured in cognitive science.” (Fuller, p. 99).
 Language and Thought, page 32.
 This is a common argument in Chomsky. Consider for example his statement in Language and Thought: ‘the typical phenomenon is either we think of nothing, or else everybody more or less thinks of the same thing or at least recognizes it as plausible. That indicates a high degree of structure in the cognitive system.’ (88).
 For example see Language and Thought, pp 32-35. Chomsky states that the mind/brain is ‘a complex system with a highly differentiated structure’ that includes a language faculty, a science faculty, a faculty for moral and aesthetic judgment, and common sense. For related comments see Language and Mind, page 90, and Rules and Representations, page 250.
 This position leads to a rather vicious circle, one very similar to the circularity entailed in Chomsky’s position regarding the underdetermination of theory by data, and to the conflation of terms discussed on page. What unites each of the theoretical moves made by Chomsky is the drive to construct an object that is unified, self-enclosed, removed from culture and society, and sealed from reflexive understanding.
 Reflections, p. 156
 Rules and Representations p. 243.
 Interestingly, the quoted passage from Mill seems to foreshadow connectionist descriptions of cognition, which Chomsky has expressed consistent opposition to.
 Pinker, page 163. Linell also describes how generative linguistics divides “linguistic products into successively smaller segments; the whole discourse (or text) is broken down into sentences, these in their turn into constituent sentences (main and subordinate sentences), clauses, and phrases, and phrases are thought to consist of words, words of morphs, morphs of syllables and/or phonological segments (vowels and consonants), and the latter are finally dissected into the ‘ultimate constituents’, i.e. phonological features.”
 Chomsky does grant that theories that deal with ‘performance’ and the ‘externalities’ of language may produce some interesting research, but he argues that this will always be unscientific knowledge of the ephemeral and epiphenomenal. This echoes a rhetorical strategy first made by Plato against several of his adversaries. In the Theatetus Plato criticizes the sophist Protagorus for his view that perception can deliver true knowledge of Being, but concedes that he is right in his assertion that man is the measure of all things in the world of Becoming. Similarly, Chomsky states that theories that analyze the social and cultural aspects of language may be right about what they say when it comes to the world of performance, however this is a world about which only very limited and retrograde knowledge can exist.
 Robert Barsky, Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent, page 95.
 Language & Responsibility, pages 140, 152-3. Chomsky makes some interesting rhetorical moves when discussing the possibility of alternative, competing ways of theorizing language. He admits that language may in fact not be a scientific object, and thus be incompatible with the kind of ‘Galilean’ idealizations he proposes. He allows that language may be multiple and integrated into other areas of social life. However he suggest that to accept this would be to commit a form disciplinary hari kari. If language isn’t systematic and able to be illumined by the light of scientific knowledge, it’s not worth studying – it is in fact not an object at all. Interestingly, part of Chomsky’s concern seems to be that linguistics would not have the right ‘place’ – the space it inhabited would not be bounded, whole, unified and discrete – it would be a distributed place, a ‘practiced’ place. Both the object and the discipline would not have the spatial qualities necessary to be unified, coherent, present and self-identical.
 Chomsky, 1997b.