The Conceptual Metaphor

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2002

19 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Few sketches of traditional definitions of metaphor
2.1 Aristotle
2.2 Augustinus
2.3 Empirism
2.4 Neo-Positivism
2.5 Ivor Armstrong Richards
2.6 Max Black
2.7 Nelson Goodman
2.8 George Lakoff

3 Lakoff’s Criticism of Traditional Views on Metaphor
3.1 The six fundamental positions
3.1.1 Semantic Autonomy
3.1.2 Metaphors are not unique
3.1.3 “Dead” Metaphor
3.1.4 Mapping
3.1.5 “The Linguistic-expression-only-Position”
3.1.6 Every Aspect of Language is Metaphorical
3.1.7 Conclusion

4 The Embodied Mind
4.1 The Embodied Mind in Mathematics
4.1.1 Numbers – just a metaphor

5 Metaphors in Politics

6 Conclusion

7 Bibliography

1 Introduction

Classical theorists since Aristotle have referred to metaphor as an instance of novel poetic language in which words like mother, night, and go are not used in their normal everyday meaning. Metaphor was considered as a matter of language, not a matter of thought. It was assumed that in everyday language, there was no metaphor, and that metaphor used mechanisms which were not used in conventional language. This theory was taken as a definition. The word metaphor was defined as a linguistic expression in which one or more words for a concept are used outside of the conventional meaning to express a similar concept. From a linguistic point of view, one has to ask what these generalizations governing the linguistic expression are. Trying to answer this question, the classical theory turns out to be false: the generalizations are not in language, but in thought; they can be seen as general mappings across conceptual domains. These conceptual mappings do not only apply to poetic expressions but also in everyday language. As a result, metaphor is a central aspect of ordinary language semantics.

Everyday metaphor consists of a large number of cross-domain mappings which are used in novel metaphor. So when studying literary metaphor, it is an extension of the study of everyday metaphor.

This paper will also show that the idea of metaphor is not limited to linguistics, but also concerns many areas of life and how we understand the world.

2 Few sketches of traditional definitions of metaphor

2.1 Aristoteles

The concept metapheréin was introduced by Aristotle (384-322 B.C.). Its literal meaning is “to carry elsewhere” or “to transfer”. Metaphor is the transferring of a word into an estranged area. The literal expression is being substituted by another one, while there is a certain contextual relation between the two expressions so that the substituting expression names similar objects or characteristics as the substituted expression. In Poetik, Aristotle considers the metaphor as some kind of deviation of the normal use of language. The most important point is that the metaphor is on the same level as every other word. His findings had a huge influence on later philosophers.

2.2 Augustinus

In the Early Middle Age, Augustinus (354-430) discussed metaphor in his work Contra medicum and defines it as “de re propria ad rem non propriam verbi alicuius translation,”[1] the transference of any word from a suitable concept to a non-suitable. But he also fought against dismissing all metaphors, images, tropes and allegories of the bible as lies.

2.3 Empirism

In the 17th century the Empirists claimed that the metaphor was nothing but a stylistic device. It functioned rather as decoration. Apart from its ornamental function, the rhetoric figure had no importance and in philosophical arguments it was considered as absolutely inadequate. According to John Locke the figurative use of language distorts the ideas and weakens the power of judgement.

2.4 Neo-Positivism

The philosophers of the 20th century, the so-called Neo-Positivists, feared the metaphor for its deviation from semantics because for them, the claim for precision within language was their most important target. This idea of exactness should manifest mainly in the procedure of decision, with which truth or falsity of assertions are verifiable. This is exactly the point in which many metaphors do not fit in. For the Positivists, they are not unambiguously tangible. The only way out is to give metaphors a state outside of logic: The meaning of a metaphor can be expressed by a literal statement of comparisons, from which it can be shown that they are either true or false.

2.5 Ivor Armstrong Richards

The introduction of a new kind of perception of metaphor and its role within language was established by Ivor Armstrong Richards in 1936. Metaphor is no longer seen as a contingent, actually superfluous rhetorical ornament. Also, he is the first to doubt the traditional view of metaphor, which always involves the finding of similarities between concepts which were not similar before.

2.6 Max Black

In 1962, Max Black takes up Richards’ ideas, widens them and causes a fundamental change in the research of metaphors with his theory of interaction. The basic assumption of the theory of interaction is that metaphors are not reducible to their literal meaning. Black also emphasizes that an interaction between two concepts takes place when understanding metaphors; for him, metaphors are projections of one concept to another, which allow us to see one concept from the point of view of the other.

2.7 Nelson Goodman

The philosopher Nelson Goodman published “Languages of Art” in 1968, in which he dedicates one chapter to metaphors, which had also great influence on the following theories of metaphors. Goodman shows that the function of a metaphor is to apply a concept with a meaning fixed by convention to another concept under the influence of this convention. The application of a concept is only metaphorical if it is contra-indicated to some extent.


[1] Weischedel, W. 1957. Abschied vom Bild. In: Erziehung zur Menschlichkeit. Festschrift E. Spranger, p. 625

Excerpt out of 19 pages


The Conceptual Metaphor
Ruhr-University of Bochum
Hauptseminar Linguistik
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ISBN (Book)
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Conceptual, Metaphor, Hauptseminar, Linguistik
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Andrea-Anja Gschaider (Author), 2002, The Conceptual Metaphor, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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