Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Death to the Aristotelian Metaphor

Lakoff and Johnson have a bone to pick with the traditional view of metaphor, much of which they attribute to Aristotle. Here is how they describe that traditional view:

1. Metaphor is a matter of words, not thought. Metaphor occurs when a word is applied not to what it normally designates, but to something else.

2. Metaphorical language is not part of ordinary conventional language. Instead, it is novel and typically arises in poetry, rhetorical attempts at persuasion, and scientific discovery.

3. Metaphorical language is deviant. In metaphor, words are not used in their proper senses.

4. Conventional metaphorical expressions in ordinary everyday language are "dead metaphors," that is, expressions that once were metaphorical, but have become frozen into literal expressions.

5. Metaphors express similarities. That is, there are preexisting similarities between what words normally designate and what they designate when they are used metaphorically. This is not an accidental list. This theory is deeply rooted in the Western philosophical

George Lakoff. Philosophy In The Flesh (Kindle Locations 1503-1508). Kindle Edition.

For Lakoff and Johnson, on the contrary, metaphor is a central mechanism of thought - a mapping between conceptual domains - rather than merely a rhetorical device. For me, this is the key insight of the work they describe. It may not be coincidence that a closely related notion appeared in mathematics before it made it into cognitive science. In category theory, maps (or functions) take pride of place over sets and other fundamental notions. It seems to me that this is closely related the notion of metaphor as mapping and mechanism of thought.

So is it just coincidence that my title is a metaphor?