Davidson, metaphor and error theory

Davidson’s error theory about metaphorical meaning has rightly commanded a lot of critical attention over the last twenty five or so years. Each component of that theory – the case for antirealism about metaphorical meanings, the diagnosis of the mistakes that led theorists to falsely ascribe such semantic properties to words and sentences, the suggested functional replacement of such talk in terms of the effects that metaphorical utterances bring about – has been examined, reformulated and criticised. The evaluation of the theory has been far from uniformly negative. It is widely recognized, even by realists about metaphorical meaning, that the ‘conventional wisdom’ about ‘discerning two senses of the predicate term’ that Beardsley had adverted to three years earlier, was shown to be misguided by the considerations that Davidson’s paper brought to bear.[1] Contemporary recognition of the importance of elucidating the dependence of metaphorical language upon its literal base, and upon its context of utterance, can also be seen to have resulted from sustained critical engagement with Davidson’s article.
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