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Does metaphor produce knowledge or simply decorate and

deliver it?
Excerpts and Notes from Ken Baake’s Metaphor and Knowledge: The Challenges of
Writing Science, SUNY, 2003

Produce Decorate

The Roman handbook on discourse, Rhetorica ad Herennium, states: “Metaphor occurs
when a word applying to one thing is transferred to another, because the similarity seems
to justify this transference” (278).

Kenneth Burke’s sparse description of metaphor: one of the “master tropes” of language
—“a device for seeing something in terms of something else,” (qtd. in Johnson-Sheehan

Metaphor scholar Andrew Ortony refers to the two positions on metaphor as
“constructivism” and “non-constructivism,” where the former holds metaphor “as an
essential characteristic of the creativity of language” and the latter as “deviant and
parasitic upon normal usage” (“Metaphor” 2). Related to the question of constructivism
versus non-constructivism is that which Ortony asks: Is metaphor purely a linguistic
phenomenon or more of a communication phenomenon (“Metaphor” 9).

Aristotle draws this distinction between the literal and metaphorical in the
Poetics, where he writes that every word “is either authoritative, foreign, metaphorical,
ornamental, made up, extended, contracted, or altered” (39). ). Ortony summarizes
Aristotle’s comparison view of metaphor as one that assumes metaphors “are not
necessary, they are just nice” (“Metaphor” 3). Aristotle adheres to the Platonic tradition in
accepting that the naming of a thing, or “subject,” is different from its intrinsic nature, or

We can create yet another dichotomy and view language from one of two extreme
positions—that all language is literal, or all language is metaphoric—or from some point
in between those extremes. Richards proclaims that we must renounce the idea that words
have intrinsic meanings, a concept he refers to as the “Proper Meaning Superstition”
(11). Words change meaning according to context, Richards argues. Hence, metaphors
resonate with multiple meanings—what I refer to as “harmonics.”

I.A. Richards begins his famous 1936 lecture on metaphor (published 1965) by quoting
Aristotle, who in the Poetics argued that metaphor requires an eye for resemblances,
which “is the mark of genius” (qtd. in Richards 89). Metaphor theorists following this
tradition have adopted the views that metaphor functions either as a “substitution” of the
figurative for the literal, or as an “elliptic simile”—a “comparison” of the figurative and
the literal (Black “More” 28).
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Metaphors in Motion: How They Work

For theorists in the constructivist camp, metaphoric statements involve what
Richards refers to as the “interanimation” between words (69), or what Black refers to
as an “interaction” (“More” 27). In both cases, the meaning of a statement is greater—
however we might define “greater”—than the sum of its individual lexical components.
Richards conveys this notion of a greater sum when he writes that, “a word is always a
cooperative member of an organism” (69). Metaphors, in this sense, are vital only when
they remain in constant motion; this is an insight that emerges from the etymology of the
word. “Metaphor” shares a root word with the Greek terms epiphora and phora, which
suggest the “transference” or “locomotion” of meaning across terms (Lanham 100, Peters
157). Other sources suggest that the second part of the word relates to the Greek term,
pherein, which means, “to bear” (“Metaphor” Webster’s). Such movement suggests that
truth can never be fixed in language, but must be constantly renegotiated (constructed) as
new metaphors appear. Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca conclude that, “Metaphorical
fusion does not involve closer relations between phoros and theme than exist in simple
analogy, but its effect is to consecrate the relations between them” (401).

Assuming that metaphors serve to highlight relations among different objects,
actions, and ideas, some metaphor scholars have proceeded to classify metaphors
according to type. This suggests that individual metaphoric statements all fall under a
taxonomy of metaphor. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s study, Metaphors We Live
By, provides such classification. Metaphors function by calling attention to spatial
orientation (up versus down, as in, “Things are looking up.”); ontological status (in
versus out, as in, “He is in love.”); causation (where creation is akin to birth, as in, “The
University of Chicago was the birthplace of the nuclear age.”), and so forth.

Various empirical studies have devised human-subject experiments to examine
how metaphor works to assist in knowledge cognition. It is clear from a cursory review of
the research literature that metaphor deeply affects the way we think and view the world.
Yet, the results show that metaphor is a complex part of discourse, and that no one theory
adequately covers all instances of it in action

Metaphor and Science

In some cases, scientists develop metaphors because they have no other means of
conceiving of an idea, Boyd writes (360). These are “theory-constitutive,” a term that is
similar to the idea of a constructivist metaphor, but perhaps more sweeping—or
“inductive open ended.” Hoffman shows that the best metaphors in science are those that
spawn theoretical ponderings over many years, such as the metaphor of light as a “wave”
or a “particle.” Yet, Boyd holds other metaphors to be “exegetical” or “literary,” which
means that they follow theory and explain it without being essential to the genesis of the
theory. These non-constructivist metaphors are “conceptually open ended” because they
help create new ways of envisioning an existing theory. He gives the example of early
modern physicists, including Neils Bohr, who worked with models of the atom
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resembling the solar system. For Boyd, the metaphors embedded in this model are of a
limited teaching value, but do not conjure up new aspects of the theory. To proceed
further in explaining atoms a scientist must go well beyond the solar system imagery in
order to capture the quirky erratic behavior of sub-atomic particles.

Similes overtly state that something is like something else, and therefore, call
attention to the act of comparing in a way that metaphors do not. Arguably, a simile is
less dangerous than a metaphor because it acknowledges the comparison and invites

Analogy, as noted earlier, draws extended metaphorical comparisons by
suggesting that two things are alike in the same way that two other things are alike.
Analogies when extended in science are known as models.