Academic journal article Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations

A Pragmatic Solution to the Problem of Category Crossing Metaphors

Academic journal article Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations

A Pragmatic Solution to the Problem of Category Crossing Metaphors

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

One of the most promising recent attempts to explain metaphorical language construes the inter pr etation of metaphor as utilizing, in context, certain pragmatic processes by which hearers modify the literal predicates they hear to arrive at the relevant non-literal metaphorical meanings. On the simplest for m of this t heor y, which we will call the pr ima ry pra gma tic a na lysis (PPA), metaphorical interpretation is taken to rely on the same small group of pragmatic processes that are taken to be implicated in utterance inter - pretation more generally. PPA is central to the leading pragmatic accounts of how we understand metaphors and has been endorsed by Robyn Carston, Deirdre Wilson and François Recanati.1 Furthermore, it appears that PPA is central not just to the proposed pragmatic analysis of metaphor, but also to the wider contextualist project in the philosophy of language, which posits the same pragmatic processes of sense extension to explain seemingly nonmetaphorical language. According to the contextualist, the processes that explain metaphor are at play in communication generally, metaphor often being a particularly vivid example. According to Recanati: "Beyond a certain threshold, cases of sense extension ... count as special" (Recanati 2001: 272). In other words, metaphor, for the contextualist, is generated by the same processes posited by PPA, but where the application of those processes results in a degree of departure from the literal use of the expression that is, sometimes, str iking. 2 If the PP A a nalysis fa ils for metaphor - allegedly inclu ding the most tra nsparent application of the mec ha nis ms of sens e extension - the prospects for contextualism in general will appear bleak. There is, moreover, a problem with the PPA theory of metaphor. A widely noted feature of some metaphors is that they combine expressions in a way that if literally construed appears to represent a categorically excluded combination of items. For example, on a literal reading of "God is my rock," an incorporeal deity is identified with something, a mass of stone, falling under concepts the extensions of which seem to exclude anything non-physical. These category crossing metaphors require a modification in the extension of their literal predicates - to allow for cases that are categorically excluded - that does not seem explicable with the range of pr imar y pra gma tic processes posited by PPA. The dilemma that threatens he advocate of PPA, ther efore, is either to concede that category crossing metaphors present a substantial lacuna in the theory, or to introduce ad hoc pragmatic processes to expla in these metaphors. The former option exposes PP A as, at best, seriously incomplete; the latter risks making PPA more complicated and less pla usible. Evident ly, t his dilemma must be avoided if P P A is goi ng t o provide a compelling explanation of how metaphor functions. Furthermore, the issue ha s obvious ramifications for the pla usibility of cont extualist accounts of meaning generally: metaphor, as noted above, is a paradigm case of the way in which t he cont extual situation of an utterance determines its mea ning, hence it is imperative that contextualism provide a convincing account of metaphor.

In this paper we will avoid this dilemma by proposing a novel way of solving the problem of category crossing metaphors using PPA that shows how we can understand category crossing metaphors without relying on the introduction of complicated or ad hoc metaphor-specific pragmatic processes. We will explain PPA in more detail in the next section and the problem of category crossing metaphors in section three; in the following two sections we will review and reject the existing treatments of the problem and give our own solution. We will conclude by considering some objections and developing the account.

2. The Primary Pragmatic Analysis

Although they differ from one another in important details, the leading advocates of PPA include Recanati (2004), Carston (2002) and Wilson and Carston (2008), the latter two locating PPA within the relevance theoretic framework devised in Sperber and Wilson (1985/1986, 1986). …

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