The Absence of Analogy

By Deely, John | The Review of Metaphysics, March 2002 | Go to article overview

The Absence of Analogy


Deely, John, The Review of Metaphysics


I

SUPPOSE AN INQUIRER WERE TO ASK what analogy might best be taken to signify. The new standard reference work for philosophy as an intellectual discipline today, the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy edited by Edward Craig and published in 1998, is all but silent on the question proposed. Volume I of the ten volume work runs from "Aposteriori" to "Bradwardine," but, on page 211, there is no entry titled "analogy." Even the entry for "Analogies in Science" is no more than a cross-reference: "see Inductive Inference; Models."

If we look to the familiar slightly older standard, the superb Encyclopedia of Philosophy edited by Paul Edwards and published in 1967 by Macmillan, we find that the opening volume too has no entry on analogy simply, but only one titled "Analogy in Theology," (1) whose author informs us that the doctrine of analogy was "developed to satisfy certain systematic demands within Christian theology," which is hardly true if we consider that "theology," discourse about that upon which the changeable universe depends in its being as such, was (along with "first philosophy"), one of Aristotle's two names for what only much later came to be called "metaphysics." (2) Yet, that point aside, it remains that even the 1996 Supplement volume to the Edwards encyclopedia goes from "African Philosophy" (page 18) to "Analytic Feminism" (page 20) with nary a pause.

As one who grew up intellectually on the Latin writings of Aquinas, the relatively dismissive treatment given analogy as a subject matter of philosophical importance or interest in these standard contemporary works came as a surprise to me. I better understood, after having consulted them in this particular, how Kant felt that consulting with Hume had awakened him from a dogmatic slumber. For while I well knew that the doctrine of analogy was developed by and after Aquinas in relation to the understanding possible for human beings of the dependency of the physical universe on a source for its existence throughout, an idea among others abbreviated into the term "God," I was also well aware of the fact that "analogy" for Aquinas and after referred to a phenomenon all but universally at play in human discourse, a phenomenon already singled out early in philosophy's long history with Aristotle's identification of being as that which is "said in many ways."

In fact, analogy names not so much a category of terms but a process whereby one term modifies the meaning of another term. Analogy, in short, is a quintessential part of the human use of signs, so much so, we may say, that it needs to be understood as naming the most distinctive aspect of species-specifically human communication through linguistic signs. Analogy, I think I can bring the reader to see, is but a name for the most distinctive aspect of the action of signs ("semiosis," as that action has come to be called) at play in human language. Like the notion of sign itself, analogy is one of those philosophical doctrines that developed indigenously within the Latin Age of philosophy's history as the distinctive epoch of European intellectual development between the loss of familiarity with Greek writings after Augustine and the loss of familiarity with Latin writings after Poinsot and Galileo.

To judge from the status accorded the discussion of analogy within the encyclopedias of philosophy standard in today's English-speaking world, neither the central development of analogy as distinctive of the Latin Age nor the relevance of that development to the understanding of human language as a postmodern development are matters of common understanding today. My aim in the present essay is to set the record straight on both counts, and my bet is that the reader who sees the essay through will come away agreeing that no fully self-respecting encyclopedia of philosophy in the future will again have "Analogy" as a blank among the entries of its first volume. …

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