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Philosophy in the Flesh: the Embodied Mind & its Challenge to Western Thought Paperback – October 8, 1999

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (October 8, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465056741
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465056743
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 7.4 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #47,711 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson take on the daunting task of rebuilding Western philosophy in alignment with three fundamental lessons from cognitive science: The mind is inherently embodied, thought is mostly unconscious, and abstract concepts are largely metaphorical. Why so daunting? "Cognitive science--the empirical study of the mind--calls upon us to create a new, empirically responsible philosophy, a philosophy consistent with empirical discoveries about the nature of mind," they write. "A serious appreciation of cognitive science requires us to rethink philosophy from the beginning, in a way that would put it more in touch with the reality of how we think." In other words, no Platonic forms, no Cartesian mind-body duality, no Kantian pure logic. Even Noam Chomsky's generative linguistics is revealed under scrutiny to have substantial problems.

Parts of Philosophy in the Flesh retrace the ground covered in the authors' earlier Metaphors We Live By, which revealed how we deal with abstract concepts through metaphor. (The previous sentence, for example, relies on the metaphors "Knowledge is a place" and "Knowing is seeing" to make its point.) Here they reveal the metaphorical underpinnings of basic philosophical concepts like time, causality--even morality--demonstrating how these metaphors are rooted in our embodied experiences. They repropose philosophy as an attempt to perfect such conceptual metaphors so that we can understand how our thought processes shape our experience; they even make a tentative effort toward rescuing spirituality from the heavy blows dealt by the disproving of the disembodied mind or "soul" by reimagining "transcendence" as "imaginative empathetic projection." Their source list is helpfully arranged by subject matter, making it easier to follow up on their citations. If you enjoyed the mental workout from Steven Pinker's How the Mind Works, Lakoff and Johnson will, to pursue the "Learning is exercise" metaphor, take you to the next level of training. --Ron Hogan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Written by distinguished Berkeley linguist Lakoff and his coauthor on Metaphors We Live By (1983), this book explores three propositions claimed as "major findings" of cognitive science: "The mind is inherently embodied. Thought is mostly unconscious. Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical." Cognitive science, with its basic materialist bent, applies computer-based concepts, a little neurophysiology, and linguistic theory to human mental life. It will, the authors say, drastically change philosophy. They seem to think that we are really run by our deep wiring and the cultural concepts that become embodied metaphors. While seeking clarity by drawing out the implications of their basic notions, they add new puzzles. What does it mean to say "reason is not disembodied"? Read this book to see how (some?) cognitive scientists think. But read it with Charles P. Siewert's recent The Significance of Consciousness (Princeton Univ., 1998) for the traditional notions of consciousness. Readers will find there's still room for their own judgments.?Leslie Armour, Univ. of Ottawa, Canada
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

It presents a strong argument for a new way of doing philosophy that is rooted in the science of mind.
John W. Schmidt
The authors are not nearly as radical as they could have been if they had shown us the conscious self as part of the reasoning body and not its overlord.
William H. DuBay
Only after reading this book did a lot of stuff that puzzled me in my readings on philosophy now make sense.
Paul G. Joseph

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

95 of 97 people found the following review helpful By Patrick D. Goonan on September 23, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read the editors reviews above and the top customer reviews for this text. I don't feel I need to cover the same ground and I'm not going to. However, I have some personal thoughts that may be useful to add.

In my opinion, Philosophy in the Flesh is a monumental undertaking because it is an attempt to topple an existing paradigm marked by many unexamined assumptions about the nature of the mind, consciousness and the mind-body relationship. This is a very tall order and while the book has some shortcomings, it successfully makes a dent in this direction.

I agree with one reviewer's comments about not including and integrating work from researchers on the relationship between consciousness, the body and emotions such as Damasio. To get this background on your own, I would consider reading "The Feeling of What Happens" and other research in the field. I also agree with this same reviewer's comment about neglecting an evolutionary perspective and to get this I would start by reading David Buss. Understanding our cognitive biases is important and many of these do come from evolutionary psychology. For dramatic examples of these, you might try reading THE EVOLUTION OF DESIRE on sexual mating strategies or JEALOUSY by David Buss. There are also other many good books in this general genre and David Buss has written more than a few of them.

With respect to PHILOSOPHY IN THE FLESH itself, I found the first 136 pages most useful. This justifies the cost of the book because it lays out the author's basic theories, the disconnects between what we know about the mind and what is assumed to be true because of an enduring, but outdated concept of the mind-body relationship.
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218 of 233 people found the following review helpful By E. N. Anderson VINE VOICE on August 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
Lakoff and Johnson make strong claims for second-generation cognitive science as a potential revolution in philosophy. By and large, they are right in their general claims. (And they are not "reifying science," only telling us what's current in one branch of one science.) Indeed, the mind is in the body, and we use metaphors. The actual way we think is very different from what most philosophers assumed, and that is an important realization. However, they could do a better job with the execution. The other reviews have covered a lot of this ground, so I will stick to a few important issues. 1. Damasio. In spite of a couple of references to rather dated Damasio work, they do not take into account the genuinely revolutionary importance of A. and H. Damasio's findings about the inseparability of emotion and cognition in the human brain. This absolutely epochal finding has been largely ignored, due in part to Damasio's less than philosophically sophisticated writeup of it in DESCARTE'S ERROR. One would hope that L and J would supply the sophistication rather than joining in the ignoring. 2. Darwinian psychology. L and J's writeup on Darwin confines itself to an attack on pop-Darwinism of the TIME and NEWSWEEK species. Yet, their whole book would be enormously improved by consideration of serious evolutionary psychology (Cosmides, Tooby, David Buss, et al). The brain isn't just in the body; it, and the body it is in, have been shaped by a few million years of natural selection. That has created particular, and interesting, problems, such as: 3. Built-in biases. People find it exceedingly difficult to think according to the tenets of formal rationality, because our minds love to take shortcuts and make plausible assumptions.Read more ›
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82 of 90 people found the following review helpful By Mark Mills on May 17, 2001
Format: Paperback
First of all, despite the reference to 'flesh' in the title, the word 'sex' doesn't appear in the index. Maybe Freud said all there was to say about sex and philosophy.
Second, readers should know something of the relationship between Lakoff and Chomsky. About 35 years ago, Chomsky and Lakoff were having a cross town battle (Harvard versus MIT) over the fate of linguistics. Chomsky was the father of 'generative syntax' (aka universal grammar). Lakoff was the vociferous advocate of 'generative semantics.' Chomsky won.
Lakoff is now on the west coast, Chomsky on the east. Lakoff hasn't stopped fighting. In Philosophy in the Flesh, we read (pg 470) that Chomsky's work is an amalgam of old fashioned Cartesianism and ideas lifted from people that disagree with him (Lakoff explicitly included). In 1972, Lakoff wrote that Chomsky will "fight dirty when he argues. He uses every trick in the book." It doesn't look like Lakoff has changed his opinion, nor his book on arguing.
I suspect some of the fire directed by Philosophy in the Flesh at those horrible 'disembodied' logicians (Decartes, Kant, etc), is really aimed at Chomsky. This book might be about linguistics, not philosophy.
All this said, I still enjoyed the book, though it is an uneven read. The case for sensory-motor metaphors is done well and represents an important insight. There are a great number of philosophers convinced 'meaning' and 'mind' cannot be found 'from the skin in'(see Putnam, McDowell, Kripke, etc) so an argument for embodied logic is timely.
I found the first third of the book very intriguing. The early outline of an embodied logic has a lot of emotional punch. The first third was well worth the price of admission. The later sections seem to drift a bit, though.
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More About the Author

George Lakoff is Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, where he has taught since 1972. He previously taught at Harvard and the University of Michigan. He graduated from MIT in 1962 (in Mathematics and Literature) and received his PhD in Linguistics from Indiana University in 1966. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Don't Think of an Elephant!, among other works, and is America's leading expert on the framing of political ideas.

George Lakoff updates may be followed on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google+. Find these links, a complete bibliography, and more at

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