Metaphors

Pragmatics and Cognition 12 (2):317-350 (2004)
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Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to contextualize the study of metaphors within constructivist-informed research, in the hope that this process will orient cognitive scientists to the usefulness of implementing qualitative research methodologies, especially to using the person of the researcher as the primary research instrument. First, I explore some of the differences between Johnson and Lakoff’s Contemporary Metaphor Theory (CMT) and approaches evolving from it on one hand, and the clinical approach to metaphor based on a constructivist therapy model, on the other. CMT has been one of the most significant forces that helped shift cognitive science toward an embodied approach to cognition. While it has succeeded to place physical experience back where it belongs in reason and meaning, CMT has, however, also fallen into some positivist traps which lead to problems such as a dualism, a split between the knower and the known, and with that, to a distrust of introspective, first-person accounts. In the process of finding conceptual metaphors — generalizations that govern metaphorical expressions — CMT often deletes the idiosyncratic characteristics and presuppositions implicit in linguistic metaphors; it divorces them from people’s sensory experiences, the “here and now” and the intent of their communications. The constructivist approach to metaphor that I present here accepts as a priori assumptions much of what workers of CMT are out to prove. In particular, it takes the correlation of conceptual metaphors and physical experience, as well as the unity of language and thought as pragmatic givens. Emulating the constructivist therapist’s approach to metaphors, I show how it is possible to deconstruct conceptual metaphors into minute sensory distinctions, using one’s own person as the main tool, for the purpose of helping people change their experiences in desired ways, at will. I illustrate this process by numerous examples from a wide field of applications, including mathematics education and psychotherapy.

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