National Science Foundation

Defending Freedom

For a quarter of a century, Steven Pinker and I have been on opposite sides of major intellectual and scientific divide concerning the nature of language and the mind. Until this review, the divide was confined to the academic world. But, recently, the issue of the nature of mind and language has come into politics in a big way. We can no longer conduct twenty-first-century politics with a seventeenth-century understanding of the mind.

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Is there a middle ground on affirmative action, an oasis between radical color-blindness on the right and racial quota-mongering on the left? As President Clinton prepares to unveil his conclusions on the subject, it's hard not to sympathize with his political predicament, but hard also not to anticipate his speech with a sense of dread. Having raised expectations so dramatically, he no longer has the luxury of embracing contradictory positions, or retreating into euphemisms. But is his task impossible?

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