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:
  1. The literal meaning
  2. Another meaning (what we might call, "the metaphorical meaning").
Davidson will defend this claim by way of a distinction between:
What words mean

What words are used to do
"Metaphor belongs exclusively to the domain of use" (p. 436).

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.

Sometimes we have suggestive, metaphor-like meanings which are not definitely not similes.

All similes are true, all metaphors are false.

The positive account

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 meanings.

(You might say: the duck rabbit is a metaphor for metaphor.)