Critical Inquiry 6 (1):131-143 (1979)

Abstract
To be able to produce and understand metaphorical statements is nothing much to boast about: these familiar skills, which children seem to acquire as they learn to talk, are perhaps no more remarkable than our ability to tell and to understand jokes. How odd then that it remains difficult to explain what we do in grasping metaphorical statements. In a provocative paper, "What Metaphors Mean,"1 Donald Davidson has recently charged many students of metaphor, ancient and modern, with having committed a "central mistake." According to him, there is "error and confusion" in claiming "that a metaphor has, in addition to its literal sense or meaning, another sense or meaning." The guilty include "literary critics like Richards, Empson, and Winters; philosophers from Aristotle to Max Black; psychologists from Freud and earlier to Skinner and later; and linguists from Plato to Uriel Weinreich and George Lakoff." Good company, if somewhat mixed. The error to be extirpated is the "idea that a metaphor has a special meaning". If Davidson is right, much that has been written about metaphor might well be consigned to the flames. Even if he proves to be wrong, his animadversions should provoke further consideration of the still problematic modus operandi of metaphor. · 1. In "What Metaphors Mean," Critical Inquiry 5 : 31-47. All further references in text. Max Black is Susan Linn Sage professor of philosophy and humane letters emeritus at Cornell University and senior member of the Cornell program on science, technology, and society. His many influential works include Models and Metaphors, A Companion to Wittgenstein's Tractatus, and, most recently, Caveats and Critiques. During the fall of 1978 he was Tarner Lecturer at Cambridge University and is currently preparing a book on rationality based on those lectures.
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DOI 10.1086/448033
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