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Bernard Harrison THE TRUTH ABOUT METAPHOR GOTTLOB frece introduced into philosophy two doctrines whose subsequent influence, on analytic philosophers at least, has been momentous. One is the doctrine that to understand a sentence is to know how to set about establishing die trudi-value of an assertion couched in those words. The other is the doctrine that a word has meaning only in the context of a sentence. These doctrines make it hard to understand metaphor. They create difficulties, especially, for any theory of metaphor which assumes the intelligibility of talk about two kinds of meaning, literal and metaphorical. Frege's doctrines allow only one kind of meaning: one connected essentially with the issue of truth and falsity. But it is only when we take them literally that metaphorical sentences acquire a truth value: usually false. Two obvious suggestions offer ways of getting around this. The first is the suggestion diat metaphors are condensed or disguised similes: true or (sometimes) false statements about similarity. The second is the suggestion that a term used in a metaphorical context just has a different literal meaning from the one it has in a sentence intended to be taken literally. Neither is very plausible. The first reduces a metaphorical comparison, "Man is a wolf," to a literal statement of similarity, "Men are like wolves." But what similarity, exactly, is the statement supposed to be asserting? Perhaps that men prey upon one anodier, as wolves are supposed to do. But dien "prey" can only be meant metaphorically, at which point die puzzle revives. As Goodman says of die attempt to find a simile in the metaphorical assertion diat a picture is sad, "What die simile says in effect is that person and picture are alike in being sad, die one literally and the odier metaphorically. Instead of metaphor reducing to simile, simile reduces to metaphor; or radier, the difference between simile and metaphor is negligible." ' 38 Bernard Harrison39 An equally fatal objection to the second suggestion is diat it is only ifwe take die terms which compose a metaphor in their plain everyday senses that they compose a metaphor. As R. M. J. Dammann puts it, "IfGod is a rock in a different sense from that in which Gibraltar is one, then both are really, literally, rocks, just as what one buys in a sweetshop is rock, though a dissatisfied customer might call it such metaphorically."2 It cannot , in odier words, be literally true diat die process of understanding a metaphor involves changing the sense ofits constituent expressions, odierwise metaphor would evaporate in die reader's grasp into literality. What this suggests is diat what makes a sentence metaphorical is not any change in the meaning of its constituent expressions, but the way in which those expressions, with dieir plain everyday meanings, are combined in the sentence. What we need, perhaps, ifwe are to begin to understand metaphor, is not a dieory ofmetaphorical meaning, but an account of what it is to assert metaphorically: an account, diat is, which would operate at the level of die sentence rather than at diat of die word. But this returns us to Frege's two doctrines. If the meaning of a word is to be wholly identified with die contribution it makes to die determination of a truth value for each sentence in which it occurs, dien it is difficult to see how the constituents of a sentence could determine anything odier than a plain, literal meaning for the sentence as a whole. What I shall try to show in this essay is that this difficulty can be overcome : that we can give a satisfactory account of the semantic mechanisms of metaphor without giving up either of Frege's doctrines. As Frege thought, understanding a sentence is knowing how to set about establishing the truth or falsity ofassertions couched in diose words. But to say what, exacdy, someone knows in knowing diat demands, I shall argue, a more complicated story than Fregeans have supposed. First, diough, I want to consider a more radical strategy dian mine for squaring Frege's doctrines with our experience of metaphor, proposed by Donald Davidson.3 Davidson holds widi Frege that the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 38-55
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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