- Paperback: 242 pages
- Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 1st edition (April 15, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0226468011
- ISBN-13: 978-0226468013
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 132 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #18,777 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Metaphors We Live By 1st Edition
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From the Inside Flap
In this updated edition of Lakoff and Johnson's influential book, the authors supply an afterword surveying how their theory of metaphor has developed within the cognitive sciences to become central to the contemporary understanding of how we think and how we express our thoughts in language.
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Lakoff and Johnson do not only discuss how we use metaphorical language absentmindedly in our day-to-day living, but also delve into how we utilize metaphor to structure, conceptualize, and share our understanding of reality. It might not be obvious what exactly is the difference. In effect, the authors argue that metaphor is not just a matter of language, but a process of internally organizing our understanding of the external world. The first half of the book makes the positive case that our perceptions of reality are built upon metaphor. The second half of the book makes the case that other philosophical views fail to adequately account for such conceptual structuring. In the end, the authors argue that an "experientialist" view of truth and meaning not only account for our metaphorical comprehension of reality, but also retain and unite the most compelling aspects of other schools of thought that fail to do so.
I think the first half of the book is a roaring success. The authors provide many and thorough examples of how our understanding of reality is structured metaphorically and how these metaphorical concepts are organized into coherent systems. They provide an explanation of why some mixed metaphors work and why others appear absurd. The idea that some arguments are covered in gargoyles, for example, shall stick with me for some time.
I think the second half of the book is a bit less successful. Bear in mind, I am not well-versed in the philosophy of language nor am I well-acquainted with the objectivist and subjectivist views described by the authors. However, their argument seems to falter along one glaring fault (because an argument is a building, you see). The authors appear to assert in an absolute and unconditional manner that there are no absolute and unconditional truths. I want to be charitable here and assume that the authors were merely being careless, and that they meant something different than what they appear to be saying. However, the theme is repeated several times throughout the rest of the book, so it's difficult to tell.
The difficulty ought to be obvious. At some level, there must be some kind of objective truth if we are to make anything resembling an objective truth claim -- even those fundamental claims about truth itself. I suspect that the authors are more inclined to affirm that truth cannot be communicated between individuals in an objective manner -- hence, the significant focus on language -- but their claims are stronger than that. If they intend only to claim, say, that we cannot exhaustively describe in an absolute and unconditional manner all (or even most) objective truths concerning reality, I'd be much more persuaded to hop on board. Instead, the authors seem to blunder at this crucial step. It's possible they clarify such a stance in the afterword (which I did not read), in which case this criticism may widely miss its mark. Otherwise, it appears quite fatal.
There's another criticism I could leverage - namely, that the authors appear to view human interest in truth as based in its survival value (if that were true, we wouldn't have books like _Metaphors We Live By_) - but I'm not convinced the book was aimed at defending such a position. On a positive note, I thought the authors' attempt to wed objective and subjective accounts of truth into a unified view were admirable and reached closer to the mark than a strict objectivist or subjectivist account of reality.
As such, on the whole, I liked the book. It was pretty good. But I also think the ultimate argument is the kind of thing that either says too little to justify such length and breadth of discussion or says too much to be taken seriously. For those interested, it should at the least be read for its delightful and rigorous first half.
I laughed, cursed with surprise, was stunned into wide eyed wonder. And wondered why it has taken so long for the brain to write this book about the brain. I don't know how to end this effort: I am stuck, and feel like I have fallen into a hole. Overnight, I hope a tunnel opens up so I can get out of here, out of this box. Do you know what I mean?
The authors are careful to point out that the use of metaphors does, possess a notion of entailment, and that metaphorical entailments are able to characterize a coherent system of metaphorical concepts. Thus this system is not loose and unstructured, but rather similar in fact to the many systems of logic that one finds in computer science and in research in artificial intelligence. However, being able to view one aspect of a concept in terms of another will mask other aspects of this concept, and the authors give several interesting examples of this. When a concept is structured by a metaphor it is always partially structured, for otherwise the metaphor and the concept it is trying to understand would be identical. The metaphorical concepts can be extended however, and be deployed in a way of thinking traditionally called "figurative."
Along with these structural metaphors, the authors discuss `orientational metaphors', that serve to organize an entire system of concepts with respect to one another. As their name implies, these metaphors usually involve spatial orientation, and originate in human cultural and physical experience. Several examples of orientational metaphors are given, and they give what they consider to be plausible explanations of how they arise in experience. They remind the reader though that these explanations are not set in stone. However they clearly believe, and they emphasize this in the book, that metaphors cannot be understood or represented independently of its experiential basis. A metaphor is inseparable from its experiential basis.
The philosophical reader will probably want to know how the metaphorical nature of thought connects with a "theory of truth". The authors don't resist flirting with the boundaries of philosophy, and give a rather lengthy discussion of metaphors and "truth." The authors clearly do not believe in the traditional Western notion of objective, absolute, and unconditional truth. They do however vigorously put forward a notion of truth which they believe meshes with their paradigm of metaphor.
Truth, the authors believe, depends on "categorization", which means that statements are only true relative to some understanding of them, that understanding always involves human categorization arising from experience and not from inherent properties, that statements are true only relative to the properties emphasized by the categories used in the statement, and that categories are not fixed and not constant.
The authors then put forward an explanation of how a sentence can be understood as true, before tackling the general case of metaphors. To understand a sentence as being true in a particular situation involves both having an understanding of the sentence and of the situation. But to understand a sentence as being true it suffices to understand only approximately how it fits the understanding of the situation. Thus the authors introduce a metric, i.e. a notion of closeness between the situation and the sentence that fits this situation. Obtaining this fit may require several things to happen, such as "projecting" an orientation onto something that has no inherent orientation, or providing a background for the sentence to make sense.
Having detailed what is involved in understanding a simple sentence as being true, the authors then state that including conventional metaphors does not change anything. The understanding of truth for conventional metaphors can be done in terms of metaphorical "projection" and in terms of nonmetaphorical "projection". In metaphorical projection understanding of one thing is done in terms of another kind of thing, whereas in nonmetaphorical projection only one kind of thing is involved. The case of new metaphors does not involve essentially anything more than the case of conventional metaphors.
The authors summarize their "experientalist" theory of truth as the understanding of a statement as being true in a given situation when the understanding of the statement fits the understanding of the situation closely enough for the purposes at hand. This theory, they say, does mesh with some aspects of the correspondence theory of truth but rejects the notion of a "correspondence" between a statement and some state of affairs in the world. The correspondence between a statement and that state of affairs is mediated they say by the understanding of that statement and the state of affairs. In addition, truth is always relative to the conceptual system used to understand situations and statements. Further, the understanding of something involves putting it into a coherent scheme relative to a conceptual system. The author's theory of truth is thus reminiscent of the familiar coherence theories of truth. In addition, understanding is always grounded in experience, with the conceptual systems arising from interaction with the environment. Their theory of truth does not require a notion of "absolute" truth, and most interestingly, and most provocatively, individuals with different conceptual systems may understand the world differently, and have different criteria for truth and reality.
The key word is "different": an interesting project would be to quantify this.