Black & Davidson on Metaphor

Most theories of metaphor look at what occurs inside a metaphorical phrase and posit a shift in meaning in the metaphorical words. This includes the classic “Models and Metaphor,” by Max Black, who distinguishes between the literal words of the phrase and the metaphorical words. On this view, the two interact in such a way that the meanings of the metaphorical words change. In another view, Donald Davidson takes a radical stance in his “What Metaphors Mean” to assert that the words in a metaphor mean nothing other than their original, literal meaning. Both theories suffer from problems: Black fails to explain how the metaphorical words change in meaning. Davidson, on the other hand, while succeeding in refuting most of the “other meaning” theories, only weakly suggests “use” of metaphor to explain its power. In this paper, I will clarify the two respective theories and attempt to reconcile or fuse them. We will find that Black looks to the language itself and finds a shift in meaning, while Davidson asserts that meaning stays literal, and we must instead look at what occurs between the speaker and hearer. An examination of Davidson’s later theory of interpretation applied to Black’s theory of metaphor will clarify Davidson’s ‘use’ as well as allow for literal meaning to stay in metaphor.
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