(Lycan, chapter 14, etc.)

Pervasiveness of Metaphor

(This introductory section is not from Lycan. It's my own list of some areas in which metaphor seems important.)

  1. in literature: (a) specific metaphors (examples too many to list, of course: e.g. Merwin on absence; Nabokov examples; lots more); (b) literary works as wholes
  2. other arts (Goodman: expression as metaphorical exemplification)
  3. religion: parables, "the lord is my shepherd," etc.
  4. everyday discourse: (a) "conceptual metaphor" (Lakoff and Johnson): argument is war, time is money, etc.; (b) spatial metaphors for the mind (somewhere in the dark recesses of the mind; memories as stored away; etc. -- maybe an instance of conceptual metaphor: mind as building)
  5. science: electricity as a fluid, light as particle or wave, technological metaphors for the mind (telephone switchboard, computer, etc.)
  6. large-scale metaphors ("world hypotheses"): universe as machine vs. universe as organism, e.g.
  7. philosophy: logical space, the ghost in the machine, etc.

Causal Theory (no meaning)

Davidson: no linguistic metaphorical meaning.

A metaphor may have significance in the sense that a hearer gets something out of it, but this is not due to what it means, it's just a reaction caused in some people by hearing the metaphor.

Naive Simile Theory (semantics)

Metaphor as elliptical simile. ("Juliet is the sun" is just short for, and therefore means the same thing as, "Juliet is like the sun.")


  1. shallow explanation of tension
  2. similes are uninformative, since everything is like everything else
  3. respects of similarity may themselves be metaphorical (george is like a block of ice --> george is cold, but this is metaphorical coldness!)

Figurative Simile Theory (semantics)

A metaphor is an elliptical simile taken figuratively: George is figuratively like a block of ice (not literally).


  1. The metaphor can be true even when the corresponding simile is false. (Example: Fred is (like) a gorilla: nasty, ill-tempered, etc. But in fact gorillas don't have those properties.)
  2. Sentences with both literal and metaphorical interpretations are not ambiguous. (But the simile theory implies that they are.)
  3. Some metaphors are too complex to be rephrased as a simile.

Pragmatic Theory (pragmatics)

Perhaps metaphorical meaning is not a semantic phenomenon: sentences do not have metaphorical meanings as sentences. Rather, perhaps it is a pragmatic phenomenon which depends on the context of utterance. In particular, metaphorical meaning may be speaker's meaning rather than sentence meaning.

This leads to a more or less Gricean analysis. step 1: realize that there is a problem with the sentence taken literally. step 2: try to find something other than the literal meaning that the speaker might be trying to convey. Begin by finding similarities. step 3: winnow down the possible comparisons.


  1. limits the meaning of the metaphor to what the speaker means by it. But metaphors seem potentially richer than that.
  2. doesn't tell us much about how steps 2 and 3 work.

Analogical Theory

Lycan mentions this but doesn't say anything much about it, which is frustrating.

Last update: November 7, 2012
Curtis BrownPhilosophy of LanguagePhilosophy Department | Trinity University