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Metaphors We Live By (1980)

by George Lakoff, Mark Johnson, Mark Johnson (Author)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,124145,795 (3.93)10
The now-classic Metaphors We Live By changed our understanding of metaphor and its role in language and the mind. Metaphor, the authors explain, is a fundamental mechanism of mind, one that allows us to use what we know about our physical and social experience to provide understanding of countless other subjects. Because such metaphors structure our most basic understandings of our experience, they are "metaphors we live by"--metaphors that can shape our perceptions and actions without our ever noticing them. In this updated edition of Lakoff and Johnson's influential book, the authors supply an afterword surveying how their theory of metaphor has developed within the cognitive sciences to become central to the contemporary understanding of how we think and how we express our thoughts in language.… (more)
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explains role of metaphor in shaping meaning in language
  ritaer | Aug 12, 2021 |
The main thesis of Metaphors We Live By is that metaphor, rather than being a matter of language to be used to provide style and aid rhetoric, is a key element in thought and understanding. Consider the ARGUMENT IS WAR metaphor: we talk of winning or losing an argument, as well as attacking positions and devising argument strategies. These are not just stylistic choices; they’re how we understand the concept of an argument. You can imagine a culture where arguments are not understood in terms of a struggle that could be won or lost, where perhaps the goal of the argument is to reach mutual understanding, but then someone from our culture would probably not perceive it as an argument at all.

he book then goes on to establish the notion of conceptual metaphor and give several more examples (such as TIME IS MONEY, MORE IS UP and IDEAS ARE FOOD). I’ve found the idea of conceptual metaphors to be very enlightening and it made me realize how much of the way we think about our everyday life is full of metaphors. Later in the book, the authors develop a whole theory using metaphors as a base, suggesting that we generally understand the world through metaphor, the reason being that they are the way to understand more abstract things in terms of more concrete things. I’m curious how well their theory fits into more recent cognitive science research.

In the last few chapters of the book, the authors propose a new theory of knowledge which they call experientialism, and which posits that truth is always relative to a conceptual system based on metaphor. They contrast it with Kantian objectivism and also more subjectivist views such as phenomenology. I found the discussion a bit vague, but as I understand it, there’s a more detailed exploration in the later book Philosophy in the Flesh.

Some more things I found lacking: I wish they talked a bit more about how conceptual metaphors play out in different languages. All of their examples are in English and a lot of them don’t translate to other languages. Given that the main point of the book is that metaphors are fundamental to thought rather than being a mere matter of language, I was surprised at the short treatment given to other languages and cultures here.

There’s also little written about the mechanism for metaphors, that is, how they might have initially been formed. I understand that this would probably have to be a bit speculative but it’s important for corroborating their thesis. In the 2003 afterword, they issue a correction to the ARGUMENT IS WAR metaphor. They talk about the fact that the metaphors is dubious because most people learn about war only after they experience arguments. The correct metaphor, they say, is ARGUMENT IS STRUGGLE. They explain that early in life, we experience struggle in conflicts with our parents and that’s also when the first arguments in our life take place, and that’s when the metaphor is established. I’d have liked to see more examples like that. ( )
1 vote fegolac | Dec 26, 2020 |
I found this book to be a little duplicitous, in that I absolutely adored the first 60% and uncontrollably hated the second half. The first half focuses on the very strong and well-argued thesis that humans live by metaphor, and indeed that metaphor is our only means of understanding abstract, non-directly-experiential concepts. It's repetitive at times, but not distractingly so.

The second half, however, is where everything falls apart. The authors ironically fail to notice their mind-projection of human-understanding-as-metaphor to the external world, and spend the remainder of the book arguing that because humans experience the universe through metaphor that there can be no absolute truth in the universe. It's nice that Lakoff and Johnson are arguing against the contemporary philosophical stance on this, and, while they get some things right, they're significantly further off-course than the Bayesians on the same subject matter.

Perhaps more heinously, the authors spend a good deal of the second half of the book arguing with straw-man objectivists in an attempt to drive home their conclusions, at one point quoting philosophers as far back as Plato to argue their claims (despite the fact that one of their central arguments is that western philosophy is impossibly flawed as it stands). It's a terribly disappointing end to an otherwise fantastic book.

If I had the ability, I'd rate this 3.5 stars, but alas, I do not.

( )
  isovector | Dec 13, 2020 |
The book is structured as really a series of essays, which leads to a lot of repetition; I think it could be edited down to ¼ of its size. Still, worth the read!
  porges | Jun 15, 2020 |
My biggest take away is becoming aware of the metaphors that shape my experience. Thinking about what they hide and highlight, thinking about why I use those metaphors and what other metaphors I could be using.

Beyond that, there's a whole lot of set up for big shots against objectivist and subjectivist views of truth. Not sure I understand it well enough to talk about it. Seems like there's something worthwhile in here but I need to let it stew for a bit and come back later. ( )
1 vote haagen_daz | Jun 6, 2019 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lakoff, Georgeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Johnson, Markmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Johnson, MarkAuthormain authorall editionsconfirmed
González Marín, CarmenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Millán, José AntonioIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Narotzky, SusanaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Andy and The Gherkin
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Metaphor is for most people a device of the poetic imagination and the rhetorical flourish - a matter of extraordinary rather than ordinary language.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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The now-classic Metaphors We Live By changed our understanding of metaphor and its role in language and the mind. Metaphor, the authors explain, is a fundamental mechanism of mind, one that allows us to use what we know about our physical and social experience to provide understanding of countless other subjects. Because such metaphors structure our most basic understandings of our experience, they are "metaphors we live by"--metaphors that can shape our perceptions and actions without our ever noticing them. In this updated edition of Lakoff and Johnson's influential book, the authors supply an afterword surveying how their theory of metaphor has developed within the cognitive sciences to become central to the contemporary understanding of how we think and how we express our thoughts in language.

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