Metaphor: Its Cognitive Force and Linguistic Structure

Metaphor: Its Cognitive Force and Linguistic Structure

Metaphor: Its Cognitive Force and Linguistic Structure

Metaphor: Its Cognitive Force and Linguistic Structure


A detailed revision and refinement of the "semantic theory of metaphor," this book provides a comprehensive philosophical theory explicating metaphor's cognitive contribution. According to the author, metaphor effects a transference of meaning, not between two terms, but between two structured domains of content, or "semantic fields." Semantic fields, construed as necessary to a theory of word-meaning, provide the contrastive and affinitive relations that govern a term's literal use. In a metaphoric use, these relations are projected into a second domain which is thereby reordered with significant cognitive effects. Amply illustrated with sensitive and systematic analyses of metaphors found in literature, philosophy, science, and quotidian language, this book forges a new understanding of the relation between metaphoric and literal meaning.


The study of metaphor has long been with us, and throughout its history it has had a stormy, tenuous, but tenacious affair with philosophy. Philosophy has, by turns, rejected and embraced metaphor, its suppliant. We can tell the tale from its inception in Greek philosophy. Plato, himself a master of metaphor, disdained the finery of eloquence. Aristotle, the more prosaic writer, gave metaphor its due--in his writings both on poetics and on rhetoric. Aristotle's treatment found its way into the classical and Renaissance texts on rhetoric. Plato's disapproval prevailed in the more strictly philosophical texts. Locke's denunciations of figurative language set the tone for the philosophical disregard for metaphor--a position in which rationalist and empiricist were united. Only those philosophers associated with the Romantic tradition paid much heed to its importance.

With the notable exception of the Romantics, thinkers regarded metaphor primarily as an enhancement of language, one in which either a substitution or an implicit comparison took place. To its detractors it was a mere embellishment, swaying the passions, 'seducing the Reason', as Gaston Bachelard wrote--while he himself used the figure, seductively, to damn it. To its champions, its lack of utility, its sheer capacity to delight, was the reason for its privileged place in language. Quintilian wrote: 'The ornate is something that goes beyond what is merely lucid and acceptable' (De Institutione Oratoria, 803. 61, trans.H. E. Butler). And Cicero relates that metaphor was first invented out of necessity ('it sprang from necessity due to the pressure of poverty'), but in the affluence of a mature language it became decorative and noble:

As clothes were first invented to protect us against cold, and afterwards began to be used for the sake of adornment and dignity, so the metaphorical employment of words began because of poverty, but was brought into common use for the sake of entertainment. (De Oratore, 3. 155,E. W. Sutton and H. Rackham.)

Cicero might have remarked that dress, no matter how elaborate it becomes, still serves basic needs and desires for warmth, protection . . .

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