Demystifying metaphor: a strategy for literal paraphrase

Philosophical Studies 178 (1):113-132 (2021)
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There is a long philosophical tradition of skepticism about the possibility of adequate paraphrases for metaphorical utterances. And even among those who favor paraphrasability, there is a tendency to think that paraphrases of metaphorical utterances may themselves have to be non-literal. I argue that even the most evocative and open-ended metaphorical utterances can be literally and adequately paraphrased, once we recognize that they are actually indirect speech acts—specifically, indirect directives that command the hearer to engage in an open-ended comparison. This leads to an overall picture in which trite, unevocative metaphorical utterances admit of just straightforward, usually non-directive literal paraphrases, while the most evocative metaphorical utterances admit of only indirect directive paraphrases, and metaphorical utterances in a third category admit of two literal paraphrases, one of which is straightforward and usually non-directive, and the other of which takes the indirect directive form. This argument for literal paraphrasability is intended to demystify metaphor, but not to undercut metaphor’s tremendous value as a communicative device.



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Megan Henricks Stotts
McMaster University

Citations of this work

Metaphor and contextual coherence: it's a match!Inés Crespo, Andreas Heise & Claudia Picazo - 2023 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy:1–35.

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How to do things with words.John Langshaw Austin - 1962 - Oxford [Eng.]: Clarendon Press. Edited by Marina Sbisá & J. O. Urmson.
Studies in the way of words.Herbert Paul Grice - 1989 - Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Linguistic behaviour.Jonathan Bennett - 1976 - New York: Cambridge University Press.

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