Book Review

»A joint interest in metaphor«

Lakeoff and Johnson offer designers new perspectives

Could meta­phors be more than a sign of lite­ra­ry excel­lence? What if meta­pho­ri­cal con­cepts were more than lan­guage? What if meta­phors were repre­sen­ta­ti­ons of how we make sen­se of our experience?

»Meta­phors We Live By« writ­ten by Geor­ge Lakoff and Mark John­son was ori­gi­nal­ly published in 1980; howe­ver this review exami­nes the 2003 edi­ti­on with a new after­word. Geor­ge Lakoff is a lin­gu­ist with a strong inte­rest in cogni­ti­ve psy­cho­lo­gy who is known for his book »Women, Fire and Dan­ge­rous Things: What Cate­go­ries Reve­al about the Mind«, which unders­cores con­nec­tions bet­ween lan­guage and thought. Mark John­son comes from a back­ground in phi­lo­so­phy and is espe­ci­al­ly inte­res­ted in how the phy­si­cal influen­ces our thought. He is the aut­hor of the books »The Mea­ning of the Body« and »The Body in the Mind«. The two aut­hors met in 1979 and were brought tog­e­ther by shared views on lan­guage, expe­ri­ence, mea­ning and—in the aut­hors’ words—in meta­phor. »We were brought tog­e­ther by a joint inte­rest in meta­phor« (pre­face, ix). Fur­ther­mo­re, the aut­hors argue that meta­phor is more than a rhe­to­ri­cal device of wri­ters, spea­k­ers and poets. Ins­tead meta­phor is fun­da­men­tal­ly lin­ked to how we think—as the aut­hors say: con­cep­tu­al sys­tem (p. 3)—and is based in our expe­ri­ence of ever­y­day life. This cogni­ti­ve sys­tem can be seen through lan­guage, in expres­si­ons that peo­p­le use all the time. What was ori­gi­nal­ly inten­ded to be a paper, quick­ly deve­lo­ped into a book and a long term col­la­bo­ra­ti­on, »Within a week we dis­co­ver­ed that cer­tain assump­ti­ons of con­tem­po­ra­ry phi­lo­so­phy and lin­gu­i­stics that have been taken for gran­ted within the Wes­tern tra­di­ti­on … In par­ti­cu­lar, this meant rejec­ting the pos­si­bi­li­ty of any objec­ti­ve or abso­lu­te truth« (pre­face, xi-x). As a result the book has mul­ti­ple agen­das: to demons­tra­te an expe­ri­en­ti­al basis for meta­phor, show the cen­tral rele­van­ce of meta­phor in cogni­ti­on, and to rethink aspects of truth, objec­ti­vism and sub­jec­ti­vism in phi­lo­so­phy and linguistics.

Lakoff and John­son careful­ly build a case for their posi­ti­on that meta­phors[1] are cogni­ti­ve tools for under­stan­ding our expe­ri­ence. Their cen­tral idea is that »… meta­pho­ri­cal con­cepts [are] ways of par­ti­al­ly struc­tu­ring one expe­ri­ence in terms of ano­ther.« (p. 77). They build their case on the basis of lin­gu­i­stic evi­dence. As they say: »But our con­cep­tu­al sys­tem is not some­thing we are nor­mal­ly awa­re of. In most of the litt­le things we do every day, we sim­ply think and act more or less auto­ma­ti­cal­ly along cer­tain lines. Just what the­se lines are is by no means obvious. One way to find out is by loo­king at lan­guage. Sin­ce com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on is based on the same con­cep­tu­al sys­tem that we use in thin­king and acting, lan­guage is an important source of evi­dence for what this sys­tem is like.« (p. 3). Using ever­y­day lan­guage allows the rea­der to easi­ly fol­low and test the examples.