Making and Unmaking the Prospects for Rhetoric: Selected Papers from the 1996 Rhetoric Society of America Conference

By Theresa Enos; Richard McNabb et al. | Go to book overview

RICHARD JOHNSON-SHEEHAN University of New Mexico


A Hermeneutic View of Scientific Metaphor: A Move Away from Assumptions of Causality in the Rhetoric of Science

I am much occupied with the investigation of the physical causes. My aim is to show that the celestial machine is to be likened not to a divine organism but rather to a clockwork . . . , insofar as nearly all the manifold movements are carried out by means of a single, quite simple magnetic force, as in the case of a clockwork all motions [are caused] by a simple weight. Moreover, I show how this physical conception is to be presented through calculation and geometry.

-- Johannes Kepler, Letter to von Hohenburg ( 1605)

And I have been greatly helped by considering machines. The only difference I can see between machines and natural objects is that the workings of machines are mostly carried out by apparatus large enough to be readily perceptible by the senses . . . whereas natural processes almost always depend on parts so small that they utterly elude our senses.

-- Rene Descartes, Principia Philosophiae ( 1644)

Are we not coming to see that the whole works of scientific research, even entire schools, are hardly more than the patient repetition, in all its ramifications, of a fertile metaphor?

-- Kenneth Burke, Permanence and Change

My purpose in this essay is to explore an alternative view of metaphor that might prove useful toward understanding the role of metaphor in scientific discourse. Over the past thirty years -- beginning with the work of Mary Hesse in Models and Analogies in Science ( 1966) and comments by Thomas Kuhn and Max Black, metaphor has taken on a much greater importance in studies of the rhetoric of science. In fact, several rhetoricians of science have recently argued that metaphors are the primary flashpoints from which scientific revolutions, even whole paradigms, in scientific thought originate.

With few exceptions, however, scholars who study scientific metaphors have employed what is typically called the "interaction view" of metaphor that was first developed by I. A. Richards and later enhanced by Black. In this essay I will argue that this "interaction view" does not adequately describe how metaphors are used in scientific discourse. Then I will suggest that a "hermeneutic" or "interpretive" view of metaphor better illustrates how

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