PHL313: Notes on Davidson on Metaphor
Notes on Davidson on Metaphor
Davidson on metaphor
Guiding question: can we explain metaphorical meaning?
"Metaphors mean what the words, in their most literal interpretation,
mean, and nothing more" (p. 435).
The "central mistake" that Davidson wants to attack is the idea that there are two meanings for metaphors:
Davidson will defend this claim by way of a distinction between:
- The literal meaning
- Another meaning (what we might call, "the metaphorical meaning").
What words mean
"Metaphor belongs exclusively to the domain of use" (p. 436).
What words are used to do
Davidson's theory is often called a "causal theory of metaphor" (it
causes other thoughts or perspectives).
Davidson_s argument is 90% negative, 10% positive.
The negative arguments
These are against versions of the claim that there are metaphorical
meanings: Metaphorical meaning does not explain anything (we need to
understand what a metaphor is to be able to say what a metaphorical
meaning is). Metaphors might be said to be statements of
similarities, but the similarities are vague and unbounded -- and,
everything is like everything.
E.g.: "Tolstoy was a moralizing infant."
If this were just a statement that there were some similarities
between Tolstoy and an infant, what are they?
Tolstoy was naive
Tolstoy was demanding
Tolstoy was self-centered
Davidson asserts there is no determinate list here.
Metaphor might be said to have an _extended meaning,_ but this just
seems to describe just literal meaning.
E.g.: _The face of the waters_._
If there were an extended meaning of "face" that included that waters
had faces, then why is that not just a literal meaning of "face"? How
is it a distinct kind of meaning?
In the determination of meaning, it is never clear where metaphor ends
and literal meaning takes over -- so, this blurs any line between
two kinds of meaning.
Metaphors might be said to be elliptical similes, but:
The corresponding simile will be different.
The positive account
Sometimes we have suggestive, metaphor-like meanings which are not
definitely not similes.
All similes are true, all metaphors are false.
We recognize an absurd, false sentence as a metaphor.
It's meaning is literal, but:
The metaphor causes us to perceive things differently (e.g., we
look for similarities of the relevant kind)
This effect of metaphors is an effect on cognition, but not a
matter of meaning.
Like looking at _Wittgenstein_s duck rabbit,_ we can see things in
different ways and this is not a matter of different
(You might say: the duck rabbit is a metaphor for metaphor.)