An Objection to Chomskys Notion of Linguistic CompetenceSome philosophers purportedly following Wittgenstein, argue thatChomsky's notion of linguistic competence s founded on a bad picture.We can illustrate this complaint with an example. Suppose hat Rudy isgoing to the store because of his conscious ustified true belief that thestore is open, sells soda, etc. Once at the store, Rudy says "I want asoda." What explains this second piece of behavior, i.e., his utterance?Here is what these philosophers call the "bad picture": just as Rudy's
Knowledge of Language
tence s one causal force among others. For instance other causally rele-vant factors include attention, memory, physical tiredness backgroundbeliefs and desires etc. To take an example: someone may know sentence(1) but may not speak t even when asked because she s too tired or be-cause she believes t would be rude or because she is too interested inother matters or because he stutters, etc.(1) Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppersCauses of all these kinds and more can act in concert, interacting withones linguistic competence to yield the effect of linguistic performance,i.e., actual speechOne thing this means for the linguistic investigator i.e., the linguiststudying the speaker is that there is no direct route from the behavior sheobserves o the nature of the grammar she takes to be "known" by thespeaker being observed The nature of the speakers competence an onlybe inferred by the linguist, not directly observed Precisely because peechis the result of interacting causes what the scientist observes s not solely areflection of competenceit's a reflection of many factors mixed together.This didn't worry Chomsky, however, since he argued that sciences en-erally do more than simply make observations and catalogue the results:scientists are always n the business of inferring unobservable causes rom
observable effects thereby explaining the observed effects Hence, heretoo what the linguists does is to infer the nature of (one of) the un-observable causes namely, the linguistic competence, on the basis of theobserved effects of its interaction with other causes e.g., tiredness stut-tering, distraction, etc.). The unobserved hen explains the observedOnce we're convinced that linguistic 'competence exists, even though itcannot be directly observed the next obvious question is how the com-petence came o be. And what exactly it looks like. Before turning to theseissues however, it's worth considering an objection that is sometimesmade to Chomsky's picture.