Objects of Metaphor

Objects of Metaphor

Objects of Metaphor

Objects of Metaphor


Objects of Metaphor puts forward a philosophical account of metaphor radically different from those currently on offer. Powerful and flexible enough to cope with the syntactic complexity typical of genuine metaphor, it offers novel conceptions of the relationship between simile and metaphor, the notion of dead metaphor, and the idea of metaphor as a robust theoretic kind. Without denying that metaphor can sometimes be merely ornamental, Guttenplan justifies the view of metaphor as fundamental to language and the study of language. His book will be of great interest not only to philosophers in this field, but also to those working across psychology and linguistics.


The only reasonable response to the philosophical literature on metaphor is one of despair. This is not because what one finds there is bad; far from it. Though I don't think that anyone is quite right about metaphor, very few writers are simply wrong. Nor is the despair grounded on the sheer volume of the literature and its almost exponential increase in recent years. To be sure, if you thought you could get some grip on it in a weekend, a week, or even a month, the impossibility of this might well depress you. But of course such volume is also a sign of health in an area of investigation. It is certainly not a reasonable ground for desperation.

What justifiably brings one low in confronting this literature is neither its quality nor its scale, but rather the sense that, even though so many sensible things have been said about metaphor, it seems impossible to see how they might form any sort of single, coherent picture. It is as if a lot of very clever people, confronted with a huge jigsaw puzzle, all set to work in different places. Pieces, often many, are fitted together, and if you watch them being assembled, it is easy enough to share the satisfaction that comes from each additional piece snapping into place. But if you stand back to try to get some sense of the whole, what you see are only small sections, jagged in outline, which do not suggest that they themselves fit together.

What makes all the difference to the assembly of a jigsaw puzzle is what, in any actual case, is provided on the box the pieces came in: a drawing of the finished picture. In life, and here this means in our dealing with the philosophical problem of metaphor, there is no such picture. So, what we have to do is somehow fit pieces together, without forcing those that form only an 'almost' perfect fit, while at the same time sketching for ourselves at least an outline of the whole. In some areas of philosophy, one has the feeling (perhaps wrongly) that the sketch has been done, even if the pieces haven't yet been assembled; in others we have only part of that sketch. But, as the opening remark suggests, my sense is that we are in worse shape with respect to metaphor: we have many assembled sections and no real idea of how the whole ought to look. As you might expect from the use of the jigsaw metaphor, it is my aim in this book to provide the missing picture, but as you must also realize I do not think this is straightforward.

Given that philosophy is not a jigsaw puzzle in which we start with a drawing on the box, it would be wrong to think that one could provide a philosophical sketch of what needs to be done independently of trying to do it. So what follows will not be an attempt to stand to one side while offering advice about how philosophical sections of the metaphor puzzle should be joined up. That just wouldn't work. Rather, I shall offer a philosophical account of metaphor which,

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