Metaphors & Meaning

Pinker reviews Lakoff & Lakoff responds. Lakoff tends to prove Pinker’s point, his defense demonstrating the tone with which some of us are quite familiar:

These questions matter in progressive politics, because many progressives were brought up with the old seventeenth-century view of reason that implies that, if you just tell people the facts, they will reason to the right conclusion — since reason is universal. We know from recent elections that this is just false.

Ah, another misunderstanding of how we reason – like grace, its presence should be demonstrated rather than asserted.

9 thoughts on “Metaphors & Meaning”

  1. Ginny, where did you find this guy! He was trained by Chomsky, but apparently not well enough.

    From the same essay:

    “progressives focus on freedom from want and fear…”

    In his own words he is saying that progressives want (with government help) freedom from two of life’s most basic emotions. Sounds good to me! Pass the Soma!

    And here is one from the last paragraph:

    “he can only make sense of what I am saying as being nonsense — the opposite of what I actually say.”

    That’s usually my approach too. I’m always right and I always make sense. Anybody that doesn’t understand me is just stuck thinking in terms of old frames. Brilliant!

  2. That Lakoff quote reminds me of something… what is it… ah, yes.

    The theory that truth is manifest – that it is there for everyone to see, if only he wants to see it – this theory is the basis of almost every kind of fanaticism. For only the most depraved wickedness can refuse to see the manifest truth; only those who have every reason to fear truth can deny it, and conspire to suppress it.

    Yet the theory that truth is manifest not only breeds fanatics … it may also lead … to authoritarianism. This is so, simply, because truth is not manifest, as a rule. The allegedly manifest truth is therefore in constant need, not only of interpretation and affirmation, but also of re-interpretation and re-affermation. An authority is required to pronounce upon, and lay down, almost from day to day, what is to be the manifest truth…

    – Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge

  3. It is fallacious and reductionist to attribute ideas to personal characteristics. Even if some yet unkown science were able to establish that certain personality types were limited by some biochemical mechanism to understanding or holding certain classes of idea (e.g. A strict fatherist is biologically incapable of believing that it takes a village), it would not prove or disprove the validity of ideas.

    However there is no such science. There are a multitude of personality types and a multitude of ideas. There is no a priori reason to believe that any one personality type is limited, ipso facto, to any class or type of ideas. Furthermore, using ideas to type personalities is purely ad hoc and does not resemble science, although it does greatly resemble marketing. (Nurturing Parents prefer mini-vans).

    George Will wrote: “Professors have reasons for their beliefs. Other people, particularly conservatives, have social and psychological explanations for their beliefs.”

  4. GFK, I found him in A&L; sorry I didn’t link it – Denis Dutton is one of my heroes, but sometimes I take my heroes for granted.

    David Fleck – what a wonderful quote.

    David Foster: Yes, metaphors have great power – but it is hard to foist them upon people whose views of the world are so incongruent with the metaphor. As Pinker points out, describing taxes as “Membership fees” doesn’t pass the giggle test. (And Lakoff may not realize the ironies here – academics don’t pay union dues.) Nor is a metaphor of the patriarchal state congruent with a conservative – whether libertarian or social – view. The single mother looking for a husband in the state votes most consistently left and the married mother with children who sees herself already partnered in the task of child raising is a core conservative vote – she wants little patriarchal help from the state.

  5. I find Lakoff on politics as laughable as everyone else around here does. Funny thing is that when I read some of his early books (on metaphorical thinking, mainly), I thought they were pretty darned good. Pinker kind of makes that point, if I remember his piece right. Anyway: another egghead intent on applying not just theories, but inappropriate theories …

  6. Yes, Michael Blowhard. Pinker says: “Lakoff’s theory begins with his analysis of metaphor in everyday language, first presented in 1980 in a brilliant little book written with Mark Johnson called Metaphors We Live By.” Of course, he uses metaphor to contrast that brilliance with Lakoff’s political thinking – “trainwreck.” Also, it does Lakoff’s argument little good when he addresses what he sees as Pinker’s motives rather than his argument. It hardly establishes a reasonable voice.

    I’d go some ways with Lakoff since I’m much more susceptible to figurtive thinking and less good at literal; however, few of his analogies make “sense” to me and most sound like they came out of 1984.

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