Donald Davidson What Metaphors Mean
that metaphors mean what the words, in their most literal interpretation,mean, and nothing more. Since this thesis flies in the face of contempo-rary views with which I am familiar, much of what I have to say is critical.But I think the picture of metaphor that emerges when error and confu-sion are cleared away makes metaphor a more, not a less, interestingphenomenon.The central mistake against which I shall be inveighing is the'ideathat a metaphor has, in addition to its literal sense or meaning, anothersense or meaning. This idea is common to many who have written aboutmetaphor: it is found in the works of literary critics like Richards,Empson, and Winters; philosophers from Aristotle to Max Black; psy-chologists from Freud and earlier to Skinner and later; and linguistsfrom Plato toUriel Weinreich and George Lakoff. The idea takes manyforms, from the relatively simple in Aristotle to the relatively complex inBlack. The idea appears in writings which maintain that a literal para-phrase of a metaphor can be produced, but it is also shared by those whohold that typically no literal paraphrase can be found. Some stress thespecial insight metaphor can inspire and make much of the fact thatordinary language, in its usual functioning, yields no such insight. Yetthis view too sees metaphor as a form of communication alongside ordi-nary communication;
conveys truths or falsehoods about the worldmuch as plainer language does, though the message may be consideredmore exotic, profound, or cunningly garbed.The concept of metaphor as primarily a vehicle for conveying ideas,even if unusual ones, seems to me as wrong as the parent idea that ametaphor has a special meaning. I agree with the view that metaphorscannot be paraphrased, but I think this is not because metaphors saysomething too novel for literal expression but because there is nothingthere to paraphrase. Paraphrase, whether possible or not, is appropriateto what is
we try, in paraphrase, to say it another way. But if I amright, a metaphor doesn't say anything beyond its literal meaning (nordoes its maker say anything, in using the metaphor, beyond the literal).This is not, of course, to deny that a metaphor has a point, nor that thatpoint can be brought out by using further words.In the past those who have denied that metaphor has a cognitivecontent in addition to the literal have often been out to show thatmetaphor is confusing, merely emotive, unsuited to serious, scientific, or
is University Professor of philosophy at the Uni-versity of Chicago. He is the author of many important essays, includ-ing "Actions, Reasons and Causes," "Causal Relations," and "Truth andMeaning," coauthor of
Decision-Making: An Experimental Approach,
Words and Objections, Semantics of Natural Language,
TheLogic of Grammar.