Avram Noam Chomsky: Ethics and Universality

Avram Noam Chomsky: Ethics and Universality

June 26, 2021 Off By Felso

Although originally famous for his work on linguistics, Noam Chomsky is best known today for his analysis of political power.

He argues that since the publication of his first political book, “American Power and the New Mandarins” in 1969, there has often been a mismatch between the way states use their power and the eloquent claims they make. According to Chomsky, these eloquent claims made by governments alone are not enough for us to reach the truth about political power. Governments may speak the language of “facts” as a way of justifying their actions, but unless their claims are supported by evidence, they are mere illusions and the actions they cause cannot be verified. If we want to better understand how states work, it is necessary to go beyond the war between rival forms of eloquence and look at history, institutional structures, documents of official policies, etc.

Chomsky’s ethical analyzes are based, in his own words, on the “principle of universality”. The basis of this principle is relatively simple. It tells us that we should apply to ourselves the same standards that we apply to others. This is a principle that Chomsky suggests should be central to any system of responsible ethics. The main psychological insight here is that we like to use ethical language to protest others, but are less inclined to judge ourselves. However, if we approve of any set of ethical or moral standards, and if we desire to be consistent, then we must apply to ourselves the same standards that we apply to others. In terms of management, this means that we need to carefully analyze our political actions, rather than let ourselves be blinded by rhetoric. This is both a moral and an intellectual imperative.

According to Chomsky, the two are very closely related. If someone making a moral claim also violates universality, then that claim should not be taken seriously and should be rejected. Universality is a necessary starting point if we are to cut through the rhetoric and carefully examine political morality. Some of Chomsky’s claims about the nature of global power have caused serious controversy, but this does not invalidate his main point. And if we want to question his particular claims then we must do so in the light of universality and all available evidence. If their claims turn out to be false, they can be changed or rejected, but if they are true, they should be acted upon.

Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook