The book from which these sections are excerpted (N. Chomsky, Rules and Representations, Columbia University Press, 1980) is concerned with the prospects for assimilating the study of human intelligence and its products to the natural sciences through the investigation of cognitive structures, understood as systems of rules and representations that can be regarded as “mental organs.” These mental structui′es serve as the vehicles for the exercise of various capacities. They develop in the mind on the basis of an innate endowment that permits the growth of rich and highly articulated structures along an intrinsically determined course under the triggering and partially shaping effect of experience, which fixes parameters in an intricate system of predetermined form. It is argued that the mind is modular in character, with a diversity of cognitive structures, each with its specific properties arid principles. Knowledge of language, of the behavior of objects, and much else crucially involves these mental structures, and is thus not characterizable in terms of capacities, dispositions, or practical abilities, nor is it necessarily grounded in experience in the standard sense of this term.
Various types of knowledge and modes of knowledge acquisition are discussed in these terms. Some of the properties of the language faculty are investigated. The basic cognitive relation is “knowing a grammar”; knowledge of language is derivative and, correspondingly, raises further problems. Language as commonly understood is not a unitary phenomenon but involves a number of interacting systems: the “computational” system of grammar, which provides the representations of sound and meaning that permit a rich range of expressive potential, is distinct from a conceptual system with its own properties; knowledge of language must be distinguished from knowledge of how to use a language; and the various systems that enter into the knowledge and use of language must be further analyzed into their specific subcomponents.