The Myth of Metaphor

The Myth of Metaphor

The Myth of Metaphor

The Myth of Metaphor

Excerpt

In order to illustrate the facts, to control them more effectively, to induce attitudes, or to inculcate ways of behavior, artists, philosophers, theologians, and scientists have used various devices. An extraordinarily successful one often used to illuminate areas that might otherwise have remained obscure is the model or metaphor. Its use involves the pretense that something is the case when it is not. Hobbes pretended that the state was a many-jointed monster or leviathan; Shakespeare that it was a hive of honey bees, "Creatures that by a rule in nature teach the act of order to a peopled kingdom." Plato, however, presented the obscure facts of human nature as if they were luminous facts about the state. Descartes pretended that the mind in its body was the pilot of a ship; Locke that it was a room, empty at birth but full of furniture later; and Hume that it was a theatre. Theologians have pretended that the relation between God and man is that of father to son. Optical theorists have pretended that we see by geometry. Metal experts present the facts about metals that break after constant use as if they suffer fatigue, while physicists make believe at some times that light moves in waves, at others that it consists of corpuscles, in order to account for different observable facts in the motion of light.

Just as often, however, the pretense has been dropped, either by the pretenders or by their followers. There is a difference between using a metaphor and taking it literally, between using a model and mistaking it for the thing modeled. The one is to make believe that something is the case; the other is to believe that it is. The one is to use a disguise or mask for illustrative or explanatory purposes; the other is to mistake the mask for the face. Both the pretense and the mistake involve, in the words of Gilbert Ryle, "the presentation of the facts belonging to one category in the idioms appropriate to another." Both thus involve the cross-

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