Metaphors In Philosophy Essay

4135 words - 17 pages

This paper deals with the question of whether metaphors are sufficient for the fulfillment of philosophical tasks, and, if they are, which cognitive or methodological place metaphors can have within philosophical discourse. We can distinguish three attitudes toward metaphors. First is the general rejection of metaphors in philosophy. Second is the unrestricted affirmation of metaphors as ‘absolute’ and as compensating for metaphysics. This conception will be analyzed critically and shown to be self-contradictory. The third position can be described as the restricted affirmation of using metaphors. According to this view, metaphors can be characterized as-strictly speaking-non-philosophical but extrinsic to constitutive forms in constructing theories. In this view, their function is not to explain, and they cannot be used as arguments. But, often they contain numerous implications with value for innovation, as they can anticipate holistic projections which are not yet fulfilled by theoretical analysis.

This paper deals with the question, of whether the cognitive content of metaphors can be put to use in philosophy, and, if so, what cognitive or methodological place metaphors have within philosophical discourse. Three philosophical attitudes toward metaphors can be distinguished: First, the various arguments for rejection of metaphors in philosophy. Second, the unrestricted affirmation of metaphors, taking "absolute metaphor" as the replacement of metaphysics. The third position can be described as the restricted affirmation of metaphors.

1. The rejection of metaphors in philosophy

The rejection of metaphorical language in philosophy can take any one of five forms: first of all against confounding metaphors and concepts or arguments, secondly, against a purposeful blurring of metaphors and concepts, thirdly, against metaphors in general, fourthly, against using metaphors too often, and fifthly against using metaphors in special functions.

In my opinion, the first reproach, the reproach of exchanging or confounding metaphorical and conceptual discourse, is the most common. But I am also of the opinion, that in a great number of cases the interpreter can be blamed: it can be the readers fault, if he is not able to identify a metaphor as metaphor, for example, out of its context. The author on his side can signal the right interpretation. The decision, if an expression is to act as metaphor or as concept depends on the mode of usage. If the philosopher, for example, emphasizes a metaphor by situating it in an explicit theoretical context or characterizes it with relevant epithets or quotation marks, the danger of ‘hidden’ metaphors is small.

The second case, the willful blurring of concepts and metaphors, in order to persuade, for example, is less a philosophical than a rhetorical and stylistical problem. The fourth type of criticism, the injunction, not to use metaphors too often, or the fifth type, when making use of metaphors, to do...

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