on September 23, 2006
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the disconnects between what we know about the mind and what is assumed to be true because of an enduring, but outdated concept of the mind-body relationship. In other words, the first 136 pages are like a nitty-gritty short book on the "must know" concepts.
The remainder of the book goes more deeply into specific examples of how the mind is embodied, the role of unconscious condition as the "hidden hand" that influences our actions, etc. It basically amounts to a defense of the first 136 pages, which in itself is convincing and compelling.
This book has implications for anyone who is interested in the mind-body relation and the body's role in cognition. Not everyone will want to read all of it, but I found that picking it up periodically and diving deeper into specific areas useful. It's not a bedtime story, so plowing through all 600 pages over a week or two might be a bit too much for someone who isn't a specialist in this area.
Lakoff has also written some interesting things on metaphor in dreams. If you have an interest in dreams, this book might be thought provoking and if so, you might also be interested in some of Lakoff's articles on interpreting dreams. If you want a nice introduction to dream interpretation that has a good article by Lakoff, consider DREAMS edited by Kelly Bulkeley. (Kelly also has a lot of other excellent books on dreaming and is quite a scholar in that area.)
I liked this book and I think it made a good dent in bringing down an outdated paradigm. I think anyone who is a cognitive therapist should read this and consider the implications. This would also be a good book for people who are more somatically-oriented therapists or who have a strong interest in mind-body medicine. I think Feldenkrais practioners and Rosen Bodyworks people would also benefit greatly from understanding this material.
Lastly, if you like this book, you might also like AWARENESS THROUGH MOVEMENT (Feldenkrais), the EMBODIED MIND (Varela), THE ANATOMY OF CHANGE and The Body (Yuasa Yasuo). Some of these books are less mainstream than others, but they are ALL thought provoking in different ways.
on August 18, 2000
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. This makes sense in the context of everyday life (see Gert Gigerenzer on this) but sure plays hell with the sort of "rational thought" that economists claim we do all the time. Yet, no serious discussion of this in L and J. 4. Kant. Kant is badly misrepresented in the book. He (unlike most of his followers--I admit) was quite aware of the embodiment of mind and the physical limits on thought, and worked hard to figure out how we could reason in spite of all. He pointed out that we do somehow manage to carry out abstract reason when it comes to math, formal logic, and much else. So, why shouldn't we try to apply it to morals? And he was hardly a "strict father" in his morality; he was the architect of the arguments for freedom of speech and many of the other civil liberties we now take for granted (in the US). 5. Metaphors. Are we the slaves of our metaphors, or their masters? If we metaphorize "love" (read: amorous relationships) as a journey, does that mean we seriously think love is a journey? Relationships also "blow up," "break," "fold," "die," "strengthen," etc. We deploy metaphors strategically; we are sometimes their slaves but usually their masters, as Elizabethan writer and blues lyricists well know. Thus, when we try, we can think rather more accurately and abstractly than L and J allow.
on May 17, 2001
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. Once one recognizes the idea of an 'embodied logic,' it seems we should find a detailed set of scientific evidence describing the specific microscopic foundations for it. Unfortunately, the book stays in the linguistic domain, seeming a bit disembodied itself. Perhaps, Lakoff's vociferous character makes it hard to work his ideas into a larger system.
on July 24, 2001
For over two millenia, nearly all worldly knowledge was regarded as falling under the general heading of philosophy. Physics, psychology, politics, and even economics were all regarded as various branches of study growing out of a single, philosophical trunk. Aristotle, the most systematic of the ancient philosophers, even dabbled in biology. But as human knowledge advanced, these various branches of study broke off from the philosophic stem and established themselves as independent sciences in their own right. Philosophy soon found itself reduced to metaphysics, morals, aesthetics, and epistemology. But now even epistemology is trying to break away. "Philosophy in the Flesh" documents the attempt of "cognitive science" to make epistemology an empirical science separate from philosophy. Its authors, Lakoff and Johnson, seek to challenge the largely introspective and "a priori" speculations of philosophical epistemology, which they regard as discreditable.
"Philosophy in the Flesh" commences by laying down three major findings of cognitive science: (1) that the mind is inherently embodied; (2) that thought is mostly unconscious; and (3) that abstract concepts are largely metaphorical. Assuming that these three findings are true (and, according to Lakoff & Johnson, they are empirically validated beyond any question), then it follows that many of the central tenets of the major philosophic traditions must be dismissed as hopelessly inadequate. "Once we understand the importance of the cognitive unconscious, the embodiment of mind, and metaphorical thought," our intrepid authors advice us, "we can never go back to a priori philosophizing about mind and language or to philosophical ideas of what a person is that are inconsistent with what we are learning about the mind."
All this is very important. If true, it constitutes one of the great revolutions in philosophy and science. But are Lakoff & Johnson the men to carry it out? No, I do not think so. They may be competent scholars and solid citizens within the academic fold, but their philosophical interpretation of the empirical data of cognitive science definitely leaves something to be desired. While I whole-heartedly agree with their contention that philosophy needs to become more empirically responsible, empiricism, though vital and necessary, is not enough. The empirical facts must by synthesized into a grand interpretive vision, and this can only be done by a philosopher of genius. And indeed, in some respects, it already has been done. Most of the valid points in Lakoff's & Johnson's book have been made by philosophers working within the critical realist tradition, especially the philosopher George Santayana. Lakoff and Johnson operate under the illusion that the findings of cognitive science are radically new, but they are not: they simply are new to those whose philosophical knowledge doesn't extend beyond the major traditions taught within academia. Yet well before second generation cognitive science, Santayana had been arguing that the mind has a natural locus within the body, that it contains a large "vegatative" (i.e., unconscious) component, and that concepts (and, indeed, all knowledge) are essentially metaphorical. Cognitive science, in discovering and validating these great truths, merely affirms what Santayana contended throughout his long philosophic career. If we could but merge the findings of cognitive science on the one hand with Santayana's philosophic vision of man and his spirit, we might at last have the honest, empirically responsible philosophy which Lakoff & Johnson are so eager to provide for us and which, thanks to analytic and rationalist philosophy, we have so desparately lacked.
on June 18, 1999
Having followed the authors' work for over ten years, I was pleased to see Lakoff and Johnson come around once again to tackle the philosophical implications their research entails. As expansive as Women..., but explicated in a clear and precise manner, Philosophy in the Flesh presents the bulk of experiments and observations detailing the embodied roles language and imagination play in our lives. That concepts have a basic logic which is neither a representation of mind-independent categories in the world nor a product of individual minds only, they have offered the philosophical community a middle path between Objectivism and Solipsism. Their own work, supported by people such as Antonio Damasio, Mark Turner, and Ronald Langaker, has reached a maturity most philosophers only dream of. Unfortunately, rather than being seriously attacked by mainstream philosophy or cognitive science, they have been largely ignored. Not entirely unlike their colleagues in vision, people such as Evan Thompson and Francisco Varela, they have been marginalized by the very figures they critique. Happily, however, there is a growing core of linguists and philosophers who have grown up wary of the traditional camps, and who have added to the core belief that the function of our perceptual and motor system creates the very particular cognitive system we have in place. If there is a complaint about this book, it is in the challenge that they fail to give to the bulk of philosophical work being done today. Work that would greatly benefit from their insights.
on January 4, 2000
Good Elaboration and Verification -- Be sure to read ''Metaphors We Live By''
I am reviewing this book together with ''Metaphors We Live By'', since ''Philosophy in the Flesh'' stands as useful elaboration on the ideas developed in ''Metaphors''. In ''Philosophy in the Flesh'', Lakoff and Johnson make a good presentation of empirical verification which followed the publication of their landmark ''Metaphors We Live By''. I think in ''Philosophy in the Flesh'' the authors become a little too ambitious, falling into broad speculation in attempts to cover far more ground than the empirical confirmation justifies.
In their exuberance, they also write a book that comes up far too lengthy in its attempts to cover even in a cursory fashion the entire territory of western philosophy. I think a more modest attempt to follow up on ''Metaphors'' would have proved better. Maybe that would have better piqued the interest in continuing future publications and ongoing research that might in the long run eventually better cover more ground less speculatively than they shoot for here. Professional philosophers will probably remain thoroughly unconvinced though possibly intrigued by this speculative cognitive science foray into their field. Finishing this book may prove a major project for anyone with less than a professional interest at stake. Those less invested in this subject might be better advised to read ''Metaphors'', though after reading that you may have more motivation to read ''Philosophy''.
I therefore include below my review for ''Metaphors We Live By'', since it also refers to both of these books. I give ''Philosophy in the Flesh'' five stars. I would give ''Metaphors'' six if Amazon permitted it.
''Metaphors We Live By'' Landmark! - A sense of recognition sets in
Many of the examples oversimplify. The authors provide no formal empirical basis for their claims. However, upon reading this book, a sense of recognition sets in. They have succeeded in illuminating as much as one can through discourse alone, the cognitive underpinnings of our language and the way we think. Very little if anything in the way of ideological bias clouds the mirror through which the reader can recognize the authors' thesis. Although not explicitly written for purposes of self-development or consciousness raising, the very act of consciously recognizing these metaphorical cognitive mechanisms may give the reader a greater sensitivity to and command of the language. It certainly has for me.
The authors later went on to write ''Philosophy in the Flesh.'' If you are a stickler for more formal empirical verification, in that tome you will find good discussions about, and references to some empirical confirmation which followed on the thesis developed in this book. In ''Philosophy in the Flesh'', however, the authors inevitably allow more play with their ideological leanings (liberal) which may prove a distraction to some readers who would find ''Metaphors We Live By'' much freer from these ideological musings. Clearly the revelations we find in ''Metaphors We Live By'', transcend ideology, including the authors' ideologies.
The implications of widespread cognitive metaphor throughout our language, culture, and even our sciences, presents us with the landmark tip of an iceberg, whose deeper implications spread far beyond and below the more obviously poetical uses that we typically recognize when we think of the metaphorical. This causes us to rethink everything in ways which I am sure even exceed the authors' scope of speculation, though they have done an excellent job in pointing the way. The ideas developed here, cry out for -- even demand -- further elaboration. This book itself only points to the tip of the iceberg and calls it what it is -- an iceberg. In this job, it proves remarkably easy to read, explanatory, to-the-point, and no longer than necessary. Anyone literate can read and understand it, though exploring and understanding all of its ramifications could easily become a whole science yet to be born.
If you have either a professional or an intense lay interest in cognitive science, this book provides an excellent introduction to ''Philosophy in the Flesh'', though ''Philosophy . . .'' certainly does not provide a conclusion to ''Metaphors We Live By.'' If you find ''Philosophy'' a difficult read, you may try this instead. If you find this book intriguing, then more illuminating speculations lie ahead in ''Philosophy'', but don't expect a grand satisfying conclusion. The authors try for too much there, overshooting themselves and thus occasionally slipping into more ideological speculations where the empirical presentation leaves off. I highly recommend both books, but this one first and foremost.
on June 23, 2011
I agree with many of the comments that some of the book is difficult to read, and repetitious. But it also changes everything.
What is most impressive is the manner in which they show how the body-minded brain not only limits thought but creates and shapes it. The authors show that while conceptual thought is constrained by language and culture, it is not completely arbitrary, but based in bodily experiences. Thought is a function of our sensory-motor system. The brain has a connection with the external world through bodily movement, emotions, and sense observations. It uses those experiences to develop concepts about the external world. This grounding in bodily experience can account for the similar basic concepts among different cultures and languages.
Thought, especially abstract thought, is made of metaphors based on bodily experiences. Our ideas about causality, for instance, are based on the experience of Forced Motion. Our concepts of less and more are based on our experience of down and up. Our concepts are grounded in, formed by, and validated by these bodily experiences. Lakoff and Johnson are also very weak describing the cognitive-scientific experiments that are the basis for their bold argument. They admit that the evidence coming from "convergent methodologies," though compelling, is indirect and not empirical. That makes it all the more important that readers clearly understand those experiments.
Instead, they overlay their brief descriptions of cognitive science with often difficult jargon. They are full of sentences like this: "The first three types of evidence are generalization evidence, in which a conceptual structure is taken as existing if it is required to explain generalizations over the data." Stephen Jay Gould said that, without dumbing down, even difficult concepts can be made simple for the average reader if one takes care.
It is hard to figure out for whom the book is written. Not until page 469 do the authors announce, "This book is primarily about the conflict between a priori philosophies and empirical findings of cognitive science." Maybe the book bites off too large a chunk. Maybe it should have been two books, one about the importance of cognitive science to philosophy, and one about its importance to linguistics.
The authors' claim that their work overturns traditional Western philosophy is a bit of a conceit. Postmodern thinkers have been doing battle with traditional Western thought for 300 years. Ever since Hume told us that there is no absolute truth, philosophers have been grappling with the problem of "What, then, is truth? How do we know? What do we know?" Italian philosopher Giambattista Nuova proposed that truth was man-made in 1744.
The authors also fail to distinguish between "traditional Western thought" and the "Enlightenment Project" with its special emphasis on a single truth as provided by science and reason--for which Kant was the champion and postmodernism was the answer.
Lakoff and Johnson barely mention Hume, Wittgenstein, and Dewey. Other reviewers asked, "Where are Heidegger and Nietzsche?" And, I might add, "Peirce, James, and Thorndike?" While the authors are careful to distinguish their position from that of postmodernists who take "extreme" positions on the relative nature of truth, they fail to show how firmly their own theories are anchored on the main body postmodern thought.
While their own work offers a welcome corrective to both philosophy and cognitive science, their main ideas go way back. These include 1. the rejection of dualism. 2. the mind and the brain are the same, 2. perception and reason are constrained by the abilities of the human body, and by language, and culture. The authors would have better served both science and philosophy by correctly indicating their position in the context of current philosophical knowledge.
While the authors often credit Thomas Kuhn's ideas on scientific revolutions, they fail to mention the philosophical revolution of which he was a part and those other philosophers on whose shoulders he--and they--are standing.
The best writing in the book is about categories and showing how we cannot help but categorize and put things in order. It is a fundamental part of experience because that is how are nerves work. Learning means fitting new information into old categories. It is just a matter of efficiency. We have 100 million cells in our retina, but only 1 million nerves leading to the brain's optic center. That means that information has to be condensed by a factor of one hundred to make that journey. Acting like a truth gate in a computer, a nerve will fire just when it receives the correct combination of inputs. In that way, the nerves condenses the information.
The most radical part of the book is their suggestion that the brain uses the same nerve structures for both conceptualizing and sensory-motor activities. This shows how the bodies we have and what we do with them determine and shape our thoughts. It also reflects the evolutionary economy of using the same nerve structures for more than one purpose. But this brings up other questions, like, "Are thinking and sensory-motor activities really that different? Isn't rubbing your nose, looking at something, or getting up in the morning a form of thinking? Aren't we thinking when we do things distractedly or by habit? Isn't thinking a form of activity?"
One implication of this line of investigation is that any organism that can move and feel has the capacity of categorization and reflection. It has to in order to recognize the difference between enemy and friend, between food and not food.
Other animals do not only share our genes, but in a fundamental way we think alike. The fact that they have different bodies means they have different modes of thought. But it also means that even an octopus (with its nine brains) can distinguish, compare, contrast, learn, conjecture, have opinions, and experiment. I have often thought, in observing the behavior of an animal, "If I had a body like that, that's exactly how I would react."
This idea, that there could be abstract thinking (reasoning, solving problems) without language, suggests that language and consciousness are but additional ways in which our body thinks.
The authors often make statements like: "What we call concepts are neural structures that allow us to mentally characterize our categories and reason about them." They often state that most of our thinking (90 percent) is unconscious. This implies that the cognitive unconscious categorizes our experiences and makes them available to the conscious self to reason with. Doesn't this imply that our conscious reasoning is not also under the control of our nervous system? Is not the self-conscious thinking ego self the product of our nervous system?
The authors might not have meant it, but they slip into some traditional thinking, that our conscious self is in charge here rather than the thinking body. The nerves do all of our thinking, conscious and unconscious. Our rational thoughts, including the concept of the self as the thinker, are but additional methods the evolved body uses to figure out the world and what to do.
Does this mean that we as persons are not autonomous and free in our decisions? By no means. Autonomy and freedom are exercised by our whole thinking system, which includes both our conscious and unconscious reasoning. The conscious self is not an illusion at all, but a metaphor of the thinking body and the whole biological necessity of establishing its own identity and separateness from the rest of the world.
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. The cognitive unconscious would not be a murky pond reluctant to give up its secrets. Instead, we would see it as the nurturing parent of our conscious life, creating it and using language to enable it to deal with a world of categories, concepts, memories, and metaphors. We don't use the brain to make decisions. The brain uses us.
on April 9, 2013
I bought this along with a book by Dan Dennett (on free-will) and Charles Peirce (on semiotics). Dennett's book was terrible, especially in contrast to this well written and clear book. I am a fan of Peirce's semiotics and some examples in this book "embodied" many of his concept. I was really shocked at how many parallels I was finding. Arriving at truths independently is a good sign. Lakoff and Johnson are true scientists. Peirce may be thought of as a quack although he was a genius, but L&J, while maybe not complete geniuses (rare these days anyway, see Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil on that topic for why), they are scientists of the highest order. Much better than say Pinker or even worse, Chomsky!
This book is a must read for any psychology, linguistics, logic, or philosophy major.
on November 14, 2005
Unlike some of the other critics here, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and, as for those who feel there is a political axe to grind, I did not read that in this book. Perhaps they are thinking of themselves.
Here, Lakoff and Johnson look at the role played by metaphor in constructing meaning. They show (adequately, I thought) that our metaphors rely on the manner in which we are embodied. They do not claim these are rigid categories but, rather, that they are flexible and inter-relate. The body, they argue, gives the structure that provides the metaphors.
I also detect a lot of partisan philosophy students at work in these reviews. No mention of Santayana? No mention of Nietzsche? Too tough on Kant? The analysis of Kant is given as a brief example and is not intended to be a thesis. As for the others, I am not convinced that Nietzsche shared the concepts that Lakoff and Johnson outline here. And so far as one critic's remark about it taking a man of genius to create a unified vision...that's just disturbing!
I think the book is excellent. The shortcomings pointed to seem to have more to do with critic's expectations than the plan for the book. I would, however, have liked to see more on neuro-physiology and on spatial orientation but (once again) that's got more to do with my needs than the purpose of the book. If you enjoy the book then check out Edward Casey's books on space/place, Yi Fu Tuan's "Space and Place", and Shaun Gallagher's "How the body shapes the Mind".