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The Metaphorical Transaction: The Complementary Theories of Searle and Davidson

The Metaphorical Transaction: The Complementary Theories of Searle and Davidson

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Published by ruby soho
philosophy of language
a reading of theories on metaphor by searle and davidson
philosophy of language
a reading of theories on metaphor by searle and davidson

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Published by: ruby soho on Dec 08, 2008
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05/09/2014

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Dianne Rae E. SiribanMA Comparative Literature95-235333
rd
Writing Assignment in Philo 295Philosophy of LanguageProfessor Ciracio SaysonOctober 23, 2006
The Metaphorical Transaction:
The Complementary Theories of Searle and Davidson
Question:
In your view, whose theory makes better sense of metaphor—Searle’s or Davidson’s? Defend your view.
Of course, it would seem commonsensical to side with Davidson. His arguments againstother theories of metaphors, such as those by John Searle and Max Black are attempts to save itagainst reductionism and maintain the ineffable magic of metaphors. Needless to say, I agreewith the criticisms against the way literature is being taught in many schools today. A lot is lostfrom the essence and potency of literature when teachers or the “literati” impose singular  paraphrases of a poems and parables; when they offer meanings but discount those volunteered by others of “lower” stature. From experience, the discrepancy in these kinds of situations tendsto intensify as the gap between generations—that of the teacher and of the student—increases.I have sat through countless literature classes during my undergraduate studies in creativewriting; and I have sat through many more for my masteral studies in comparative literature.Before those, there had been elementary and high school. Now that I teach literature myself, Idon’t blame my students for their initial passivity and lack of enthusiasm in class. I actuallyexpect it; and to address this early reluctance, I try to do as some of my good professors did andlet stories and poems be mere whetting stones for our minds—to be able to generate insights
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more spontaneously, to develop critical thinking—instead of toughened oysters for us to crack to be able to learn. Nevertheless, I appreciate all the theories that I have read in class regarding metaphor. Ithink that all these theories offer valuable insights that may lead to solutions to some of out biggest problems today. For instance, the articulation of the metaphorical issue sheds light onreligious conflicts and debates regarding the meaning of biblical texts, particularly the teachingsof Jesus and his disciples.In Martinich, Davidson states that “metaphors mean what the words in their most literalinterpretation mean, and nothing more” (430). I take this to mean that, for Davidson, the bestway to appreciate a metaphor is by understand them at the semantic level. That is to say, literally.Consequently, the impressions and feelings that this understanding creates in us is the essence of the metaphor. While Searle’s principles aim to get to the meaning (S is R) of a metaphor beyondthe literal level (S is P), Davidson asserts that what is important in metaphors is not meaning, butrather the function. This function being what metaphor does, which is—to my understanding of how they work in literature—to defamiliarize, lend new perspectives of the world, and give freshinsights
.
Furthermore, Davidson maintains that “an adequate metaphor must allow that the primaryor original meanings of the words remain active in their metaphorical setting.” Again, we shouldtake the metaphor literally first. A good example of such an approach to metaphor is the literalinterpretations of metaphors in the sitcom
 Ally McBeal 
. Visually, occasional scenes from theepisodes of this sitcom, are easily perceived as exaggerated, absurd and even surreal. A character is shown melting like a lighted candle, another character chopping off the head of another 
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 person, and the like. Of course, these instances may also indicate that the story is told from asubjective point of view; that of the overly imaginative Ally. Nevertheless, the shock of seeingsuch images brings home the message much more effectively than explaining what metaphorssuch as “looking daggers” or “dickhead”
approximately
mean (S is R).I’m having difficulty coming up with examples of metaphors that people use in everyday,mundane contexts. Perhaps this proves that the use of metaphor is truly deeply ingrained in our communication practices. Perhaps an example that I can offer of how metaphor is used in the practical world (meaning not in works of art, literature, film, etc.), is the use of the terms“master” and “slave” to label computer hardware configurations, instead of using the usual 0 and1. But this particular use of metaphor does point to a very identifiable meaning or interpretation.For instance a “master” hardware devise precedes the functions of a slave or secondary device, aconfiguration necessary especially when they share a common data and power cables.While I agree with most of Davidson’s defense of the ineffable nature of metaphor, I disagreewith his statement that “a metaphor doesn’t say anything beyond its literal meaning (nor does itsmaker say anything in using the metaphor beyond the literal.” He probably stated this withoutconsidering other uses of language besides ordinary conversation, such as poetry and fiction. He probably hadn’t considered systems of language other than verbal, such as the language of visualarts, music and film.I believe that when one writes or constructs utterances, especially in works of art, oneconsciously chooses components of the language being used; the author or artist selects words,colors, images, sounds, etc. to be able to articulate an expression metaphorically. There arereasons behind the choices that an utterer of metaphors makes, mostly because in his/her 
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