- 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: #23,670 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 will not answer that question here. It is a wider question than the book itself. I am surprised that he actually wrote this sentence that leads to that question. But he states this sentence because he never ever considers the phylogeny of language in the emerging Homo Sapiens, nor the real psychogenesis of language in a real child. And yet he is stating some of the fundamental principles of these two approaches of language, of the linguistic faculty of man.
I will not discuss his approach of the Objectivist conception or of the Subjectivist conception. These approaches are just unrealistic. They do not consider man and his linguistic invention in the real genetic conditions that produced the emergence of language in Homo Sapiens, nor the mergence of language in a new-born child. Why waste time on such a passé if not archaic discussion. The book did it when it came out in 1979. That was OK then, though already slightly wilted, but today it sounds absurd to discuss such theories or myths that have nothing to do with reality. I will remain in this review within the theoretical approach of Lakoff himself, what he calls the Experientialist approach. And that is already a lot to consider.
In the book the best summary is p. 272-3. But you have to read the whole book to really understand the arguments.
The first one is: "Metaphors are fundamentally conceptual in nature: metaphorical language is secondary" meaning of a second level of generation. If metaphors are conceptual they depend on the brain/mind activity and there we have to widen the question: what is "mind"? The answer is not easy and Lakoff or the Neuro-Linguistic Programming that he quotes is even less clear on that concept and they ignore the approach that is most detached from western philosophy that Lakoff systematically dismantle, i.e. Buddhism, the fact that the "mind" is the sixth sense, in fact a meta-sense that receives, analyzes and discriminates in all kinds of ways the stimuli coming from the five other senses. That would really help these people to build the real experiential approach of what concepts are. They are on the right track but they are not able to go to the end of it because they miss that simple fact.
That means those concepts cannot exist without being invented, discriminated, devised first and there the conditions as seen by Lakoff are in the right direction again but not to the end. The concepts are the result of one particular capability the "mind" has within the brain and the central nervous system and the sensori-motor management of the body: the capacity to conceptualize through direct experience collectively both received or suffered.
The new-born, and before him Homo Sapiens, has the genetic possibility to develop a central nervous system and a brain that give him the ability to learn - or develop - language which is the possibility to invent concepts and categories that are in phase with the brain itself, hence easy to be acquired and rather easy to be invented, but this invention/acquisition cannot occur without some fundamental circumstantial experiential elements, what I call the trauma of birth and hunger, the trauma of the first cry that means the total separation from the mother, the absolute impotence if not even worse of the child who is absolutely dependent on his environment to survive.
Lakoff does not seem to understand that. The only time he speaks of children he says: "All children struggle against the physical manipulations of their parents." (p. 265) This is on the verge of an unacceptable student assertion. It is not acceptable from a researcher. It is obvious (and that is no intimidation, just something anyone can check in any maternity in the world) that the new-born is longing and welcoming and needing the physical contact with the mother and the other nurturers who are going to take care of them. The first cry of the child only means they have a feeling of want or need but pretty soon, after just a few instances, the child will cry to call for the nurturer.
If Lakoff had just reflected on this point he would not have committed this second mistake: "This neural learning mechanism produces a stable conventional system of primary metaphors that tend to remain in place indefinitely within the conceptual system and are independent of language" (p. 256) Lakoff is right up to the last and. The child, even before their birth is in contact, all the time, with language from the mother, her direct environment during pregnancy and the various people around her after delivery. From the 24th week of the pregnancy the child can hear clearly what is being said and around their mothers. The mother and all other nurturers are going to speak to the child and put words on every single element of their experience. The child is going to build in their experiential mind the concepts for the objects they are confronted to, the people they are dealing with, the relations with these people and these objects, the functions they hold in these relations. All that is first of all experiential psychology for the child whose mind is being built through this experience and at the same time is building in the child the concepts, categories and notions the child will need to acquire the language/s spoken around them and then to build their discourse from these deep langue categories.
All that is not only neglected but ignored by Lakoff, just as much as it is by the people of the NLP. This is a serious shortcoming because language, and metaphors are sooner or later always expressed with words, though they could and can be expressed with gestures, or music notes and intervals, rhythms and colors, language is the first structured and articulated product of the mind of a child confronted to and surrounded by the nurturing and caring world of adults he is going to be attached to and he will have to learn how to get detached from. We are far from "independent of language" and "struggle against the physical manipulations of their parents".
Yet this book is essential if you want to really get into the deep debate about the phylogeny and psychogenesis of language. Have a good trip.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
The basic point of the authors is that; "...we define our reality in terms of metaphors and then proceed to act on the basis of metaphors." In the process they get quite wordy and go through lengthy explanations including one long discourse on why we understand a sentence to be true. It tests your self-discipline to keep reading.
The last 40% of the book then dives into a lenghty debate of objectivism vs. subjectivism and the presentation of their experientialist alternative. The authors present and then continue to rehash their arguments in a debate against a nameless opponent: the evil objectivist. There is some lip service paid to the less evil subjectivist.
I did gain a new understanding of the importance of metaphors in our language and thought, but not much else that I wanted to learn. The information that I found useful could have been presented in a much shorter form, perhaps a white paper.