Roger Peters Copyright © 2005
Journal for the Advancement of the Quaternary Evolution in Shakespeare
JAQUES is the cover-all title of a journal which incorporates essays about proto-quaternary thinkers (JAQUES), essays that investigate the historic misrepresentation of Shakespearean thought (INQUEST), and essays that examine social and political issues(QUIETUS). The essays will provide another level of evidence and argument for the presence of a consistent philosophy in Shakespeare's works, and for the claim that it is a philosophy unparalleled in the literatures of the world.
The intention in each essay is to lay down in general terms the relationship between Shakespeare's Sonnet philosophy and the topic to be critiqued. The idea is to show how the Sonnet philosophy resolves psychological problems consequent upon millennia of dependence on the inadequate biblical paradigm.
George Lakoff is a cognitive scientist based at the University of California,
Berkeley, and Mark Johnson is a philosopher currently at the University of
Oregon. Together and separately they have produced a number of books
that argue, largely on the basis of empirical evidence, for the dependence
of the mind on bodily functions and dispositions. Their work challenges
what they call ‘2500 years of objectivist tradition’ in which the mind has
been viewed as transcendental and prior to the human body.
In books such as The Body in the Mind (1987) (1) by Mark Johnson, Women
Fire and Dangerous Things (1987) (2) by George Lakoff and co-authored books
such as Metaphors We Live By (1980) (3) and Philosophy in the Flesh (1999) (4), they
examine the way language is used and show that the majority of human
communication relies on metaphorical expressions that are so deeply
embodied in human experience that only by accepting the priority of the
body over the mind can the phenomenon be explained.
In Philosophy in the Flesh Lakoff and Johnson scrutinise the objectivist
tradition relentlessly to show that for 2500 years philosophical thought has
been based in wishful thinking rather than the natural logic of language.
They use their findings to critique traditional philosophy that has based its
speculative metaphysics on the illogical presumption that the mind is prior
to the body.
This essay considers the contribution of Lakoff and Johnson to the
post-Darwinian transformation in attitude to both language and the mind.
Darwin had demonstrated the priority of the body over the mind through
his scientific examination of the process of natural selection in evolution.
As a consequence of Darwin’s insights many philosophers have rejected
the tradition of justifying metaphysical claims and now accept the natural
logic of bodily priority. Lakoff and Johnson make special mention of
Maurice Merleau-Ponty and John Dewey who base their philosophies on
the understanding that ‘our bodily experience is the primal basis for everything
we can mean, think, know, and communicate’. (5)
But the essay also considers the difference between Lakoff and Johnson’s
claim that philosophy is a process of ‘inquiry’ best conducted by ‘empirically
responsible philosophers’ who propose philosophical theories, and
Ludwig Wittgenstein’s idea that philosophy continually reiterates the logical
conditions of life. If the logic of life is subject to ongoing empirical research,
as Lakoff and Johnson suggest, the implication is that until scientists finalise
their research no one can appreciate the logic of life.
Yet many people remain at ease with themselves and the world throughout
their lives, and no doubt many in the past have understood the natural
dynamic of life. The four thinkers who feature in these volumes (Darwin,
Mallarmé, Duchamp, and Shakespeare) despite working at the highest pitch
of intellectual achievement, were by all accounts philosophical about life.
The essay examines Lakoff and Johnson’s limited recognition of
Wittgenstein and questions why they decide not to examine his work when
they examine the contributions of other philosophers in the second part of
Philosophy in the Flesh. It then considers their determination to see philosophy
as a form of scientific inquiry into the mechanism of language without
subjecting the mythological language of male God biblical faiths to a similar
Lakoff and Johnson’s reluctance to inquire into the culturally significant
language of myth and its sexual/erotic logic, despite the allusion to the
‘word made flesh’in the title of Philosophy in the Flesh, raises questions as to the
depth of their challenge to the objectivist tradition of the last 2500 years.
It is no surprise that Christian philosophers such as Augustine, Aquinas,
Descartes, and Kant never questioned the logic of the biblical mythology
because they were seeking to justify it using formal philosophical processes.
But ironically Lakoff and Johnson’s insistence that philosophy like science is
based in theories leaves them unable to do justice to the metaphor in
Four hundred years ago Shakespeare articulated the consistent mythic
logic of his Sonnets to correct the corrupt form of mythology in the biblical
texts. He shows that the logical elements for a consistent philosophy sought
by Lakoff and Johnson are available, though scrambled, in any mythology.
The essay will first consider the four books by Lakoff and Johnson
mentioned above, and then examine the relationship of their ideas to
Metaphors We Live By
In Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff and Johnson present numerous examples of
metaphorical language to demonstrate that a large part of human communication
is based on metaphor. Unlike the traditional view of metaphor as an
accessory to language used only to evoke poetic insights or account for events
not otherwise understood, Lakoff and Johnson’s investigation shows that
everyday language is riddled with metaphoric references. The use of metaphorical
structuring in human communication is so pervasive they suggest
that ‘metaphor plays a very significant role in determining what is real for us’. (6)
So instead of being incidental, the occurrence of metaphor in language
is systematic. The instances of metaphorical structuring can be quite
complex with one form of metaphor ‘hiding’ another. For instance, in the
meta-language used to reflect on the use of language, their research identifies
three metaphors: ‘ideas are objects’, ‘linguistic expressions are containers’,
and ‘communication is sending’. (7) Lakoff and Johnson give a number of
examples of such metaphors in use, most of which are used unconsciously
in the give and take of daily discussion.
Metaphors We Live By discusses a range of ways in which metaphors enter
language as a consequence of bodily activity in the world. Language uses
many ‘orientational metaphors’ that correspond to bodily dispositions. The
words up, down, front, back, side, face, etc., are used universally to express
intention, emotion, decision and many other mental states. Lakoff and
Johnson describe the prevalence of ‘ontological metaphors’, ‘personification’,
and discuss the role of ‘metonymy’ in which a part stands in for the whole.
The interlacing of the various metaphorical expressions corresponds
systematically to aspects of human experience. The structure and coherence
of metaphors in language is a direct consequence of the structure and
coherence of everyday activities. While sentences expressing immediate
human requirements such as ‘pass the salt’ or ‘salt is good’ have no metaphorical
content, the distinctive capacity of humans to use language to
convey more complex ideas and desires is firmly grounded in the use of
metaphor. And just as factual sentences depend on bodily activities, the
language of metaphor is also based in bodily interaction.
Because the majority of human communication is based on metaphorical
language derived from bodily experience, Lakoff and Johnson say that
such metaphors are ‘grounded by virtue of systematic correlates within our
experience’ (authors’ italics). (8) They then use their empirical findings to critique
traditional philosophical ‘theories’. When they examine the notion of ‘truth’,
for instance, they find their understanding has elements in common with
‘correspondence theory’, ‘coherence theory’ and ‘pragmatic theory’ and
‘classical realism’. (9)
But for Lakoff and Johnson their ‘experientialist theory of truth’ takes
it as a ‘given’ that (summarising their points) the ‘world, cultures and people
are as they are’, that ‘people successfully interact with the world’, that ‘human
categorisation is constrained by reality’, that it ‘extends classical realism’s focus
on objects to people’, and that ‘human concepts correspond to interactional
properties and not inherent properties’. They then critique the ‘myth of
objectivism’, in which the ‘world is made up of objects’, and the ‘myth of
subjectivism’, which prioritises individual ‘feelings and intuitions’. (10) They
see their experientialist theory of truth reconciling Plato’s objectivist fear of
metaphor with Aristotle’s appreciation that metaphor makes it possible to
‘get hold of something fresh’. (11)
But Lakoff and Johnson do not offer a comprehensive philosophy of life
based on their empirical investigations. Instead they end their book with a
chapter on ‘understanding’. (12) They show how the ‘experientialist account
of understanding provides a richer perspective on…interpersonal communication,
self-understanding, ritual, aesthetic experience, and politics’. (13) As
this essay progresses and the comprehensive structure of Shakespeare’s Sonnet
philosophy is brought to bear on such musings, the consequence of Lakoff
and Johnson’s high expectation of scientific theories and their misunderstanding
of the status of myth will emerge.
Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things
In Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things, Lakoff continues the work begun in
Metaphors We Live By but in greater detail and with greater attention to variations
across cultures. The title Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things derives from
the one of the four distinctive classifications of things in Dyirbal, an
Australian aboriginal language. The three items are in their second category
balan, which includes ‘human females, water, fire and fighting’. (14)
The principal focus of Lakoff ’s investigation, though, is still the contrast
between traditional ‘objectivism’ and ‘experientialism’. He first ‘defines’ the
‘issue’ that contrasts objectivism with experientialism. He asks if ‘meaningful
thought and reason concern merely the manipulation of abstract symbols
and their correspondence to an objective reality, independent of any embod-
iment’ or ‘do meaningful thought and reason essentially concern the nature
of the organism doing the thinking – including the nature of its body, its
interactions in its environment or its social character’. (15)
Lakoff begins by considering the importance of categorising to the
process of understanding and so for the possibility of understanding what
makes us human. Compared with classical categorisation based on ‘abstract
containers’ with things inside or outside, most human categorisation is done
automatically and unconsciously and includes every type of entity. He introduces
the work of Eleanor Rosch who questions the assumption that all
members of a category are the same or that they are unaffected by the peculiarities
of the beings doing the categorising.
In his second chapter Lakoff introduces the themes he will discuss. To
show the influence of human embodiment on categories he will consider
family resemblances, centrality, polysemy, generativity, membership gradience,
centrality gradience, conceptual embodiment, functional embodiment, basiclevel
categorisation, basic-level primacy, and metonymic reasoning. All the
themes are united under the umbrella of ‘cognitive models’, which structure
thought and are used in ‘forming categories and in reasoning’. (16)
It is not the intention in this essay to give any more than an indication
of Lakoff ’s exhaustive investigation of the embodiment in human language.
His book not only provides detailed evidence for such embodiment and
argues for experientialism against classic objectivism, it provides three
extended case studies of ‘recalcitrant’ ideas that classical techniques have been
unable to account for adequately.
Of interest to the findings presented in these four volumes is the
acknowledgment Lakoff gives Wittgenstein for his groundbreaking notion
of ‘family resemblances’ to characterise the properties found in conceptual
categories. But Lakoff avoids the logical overview Wittgenstein brings to
his understanding of the function of philosophy as a set of already existing
logical conditions that do not need to be proved or found but that are
frequently obscured from view. Lakoff ’s contrary belief that only empirical
investigation will reveal the logic of life and philosophic investigation is
unavailing will be critiqued as the essay continues.
The Body in the Mind
In The Body in the Mind Mark Johnson explores the role of the imagination
in the language dynamic. He wants to correct the ‘total absence of adequate
study of imagination in our most influential theories of meaning and rationality’.
(17) The problem can only be addressed by overturning the ‘widely
shared set of presuppositions that deny imagination a central role in the
constitution of rationality’17. The presumptions of the objectivist tradition,
with its ‘one correct God’s-Eye-View’, reduce the world to ‘objects’ that
are ‘independent of human understanding’. (18)
The empirical evidence from ‘studies in many different disciplines’
including cognitive science have demonstrated that ‘human understanding
is required for an account of meaning and reason’. (19) He lists categorisation,
framing of concepts, metaphor, polysemy, historical semantic change, non-
Western conceptual systems and growth of knowledge as phenomena that
challenge objectivist assumptions. As Hilary Putnam says, ‘any adequate
account of meaning and rationality must give central place to embodied and
imaginative structures of understanding by which we grasp the world’. (20)
Johnson illustrates the notion of ‘embodied imaginative understanding’
by considering two types of imaginative structure, image schemata and
metaphorical projections. He defines an image schema as a ‘recurring,
dynamic pattern of our perceptual interactions and motor programmes that
gives coherence and structure to our experience’. (21) The Body in the Mind
explores some of the more ‘important embodied imaginative structures of
human understandings that make up our network of meanings and give rise
to patterns of inference and reflection at all levels of abstraction’. (22)
Against the background of the objectivist tradition and continuing objectivist
expectations among many philosophers Johnson sees two ‘especially
controversial aspects in the view’23 he is developing about the centrality of
image schematic structures. The first is their ‘apparently nonpropositional,
analog nature’, and the second is their ‘figurative character, as structures of
embodied imagination’. (23) His intention is to build a ‘constructive theory of
imagination and understanding that emphasises our embodiment’. (24)
After providing a brief examination of objectivist theories of meaning
and rationality, with mentions of Descartes, Kant, Frege, Donaldson, and
others, Johnson concludes that image schemata have no place in objectivist
theories because they are ‘too bodily’ and because they are not ‘sufficiently
rule-governed’. (25) His procedure throughout the rest of the book is to
consider ‘embodied patterns of imagination’, the ‘role of bodily experience
in reason’, the ‘pervasiveness of image schemata’, and he then applies his
theories to ‘meaning, understanding, and imagination’. (26)
This is not the place to review Johnson’s detailed case for the embod-
iment of the imagination. It is sufficient to say that his arguments are in
accord with the attitude to the body/mind relationship articulated in these
volumes. But, as mentioned before, his insistence that philosophy is based
in theories restricts his ability to consider questions of the highest level of
imaginative engagement, the mythic. The absence is apparent in the last
couple of pages where he sketches a ‘non-objectivist account of truth’ and
then on the last page, through the agency of Hilary Putnam, he considers
the ‘coherence of our beliefs’. (27)
Putnam’s idea is that a ‘whole system of statements’ is rationally
acceptable through its ‘coherence and fit’, with ‘experiential beliefs’ and
‘theoretical beliefs…deeply interwoven with our psychology’. The resulting
objectivity is an ‘objectivity for us’ as against the ‘God’s-Eye-view’ of
religion. Johnson says he goes ‘beyond Putnam’s focus on beliefs’ to stress
the importance of the ‘public nature of image schematic and basic level
structures of understanding’ to provide a ‘shared human perspective’ that is
‘tied to reality through our embodied imaginative understanding’. (28)
This essay will show that only by understanding the function of the
deepest level of imaginative expression, the mythic, can the relation of the
psychology of beliefs and a sound philosophy be gained.
Philosophy in the Flesh
Philosophy in the Flesh begins by acknowledging those ‘empirically responsible
philosophers’ who draw on the ‘best available empirical psychology,
physiology, and neuroscience to shape their philosophical thinking’. (29) Then,
in the Introduction, Lakoff and Johnson list the ‘three major findings’ of
cognitive science: ‘the mind is inherently embodied’, ‘thought is mostly
unconscious’, and ‘abstract concepts are largely metaphorical’. (30) They are
confident the evidence from their research into the cognitive basis of language
brings to an end the a priori philosophical speculation of the last 2500 years.
For Lakoff and Johnson ‘our most basic philosophic beliefs are tied
inextricably to our view or reason’.30 As their findings are at odds with
‘central parts of Western philosophy’, they predict that philosophy will never
be the same again. They suggest their new understanding of the reasoning
process as inherently tied to bodily functions will provide a shock for traditional
Then they list the differences between the new and the old views of
reason. Contrary to philosophical tradition cognitive science has shown that
reason is embodied, evolutionary, not universally transcendent, mostly
unconscious, largely metaphorical, and emotionally engaged. Looking at the
history of philosophy their findings overturn Cartesian dualism, Kantian
autonomy and universal morality, utilitarian economic rationalism, phenomenological
introspection, the poststructuralist decentred subject, Fregean
objective meaning, mind as computer theories, and Chomskyan genetic
For Lakoff and Johnson, past ‘philosophical questioning’ or ‘philosophical
reflection’ has not discovered the fundamental facts about the mind revealed
by their scientific investigation. Their programme in Philosophy in the Flesh
is to give an overview of ‘what philosophy can become’ by using the
‘methods of cognitive science and cognitive linguistics’. (33) Then in Part 2,
they analyse the basic concepts ‘that philosophy must address such as time,
events, causation, the mind, the self, and morality’ and begin the study of
‘philosophy itself ’ by examining the history of philosophy in Part 3.
Significantly, they do not address Wittgenstein’s ‘philosophy’ in the review.
Central to the task of understanding traditional subjects such as
metaphysics, morality, and the self by the new methods of cognitive science
is the appreciation that most cognition is carried on below the level of
consciousness. Here ‘cognitive’ refers not just to the conscious conceptual
or propositional structure of language but to ‘any kind of mental operation
that can be studied in precise terms’. (34)
Then, seemingly paradoxically, Lakoff and Johnson assert that even
though ‘we have no direct conscious awareness of what goes on in our
minds’ they are confident that ‘cognitive unconscious’ is accessible to
cognitive science through its theories. (35) They maintain that ‘unless we know
our cognitive unconscious fully and intimately’ (36) we cannot understand the
traditional subjects of philosophy.
Beginning with a chapter on the ‘embodied mind’, Lakoff and Johnson
review the findings of cognitive scientists about ‘primary metaphor and
subjective experience’, ‘the anatomy of complex metaphor’, ‘embodied
realism’, ‘realism and truth’, and ‘metaphor and truth’. In the final paragraph
of chapter 8, they concede that ‘the metaphoric character of philosophy is
not unique to philosophic thought. It is true of all abstract thought, especially
science’. (37) They acknowledge that even their cognitive scientific understanding
is available only through ‘conceptual metaphor’. They are confident
that the apparent difficulty, though, should not obscure their finding that
‘conceptual metaphor is one of the greatest of our intellectual gifts’. (37)
When Lakoff and Johnson turn to analyse basic philosophical ideas in
Part 2, they suggest their approach is ‘opposite’ to the common procedure
of applying a ‘purely philosophic methodology’. Instead of the ‘philosophy
of time’, for instance, they provide a ‘cognitive science of time’. (38) First they
acknowledge that ‘each idea has an underspecified nonmetaphorical
conceptual skeleton’ which is ‘fleshed out by conceptual metaphor’. But then
they say they will argue that each of the ideas is ‘not purely literal, but
fundamentally and inescapably metaphorical’. (38) Again their programme
seems somewhat paradoxical.
In Part 3, where Lakoff and Johnson examine the history of philosophy
from the perspective of cognitive science, they approach philosophy as a
‘form of conceptual activity’. (39) When ‘philosophers construct their theories
of being, knowledge, mind, and morality, they employ the very same
conceptual resources and the same basic conceptual system shared by
ordinary people in their culture’. Cognitive science ‘offers’ a conceptual
analysis of the ‘strange questions’ about such things as ‘being’, ‘truth’ and
‘good’. It provides a critical assessment of theories with ‘constructive philosophical
theorising’ about self understanding and how to act in the world. (40)
They end the Introduction by asserting that ‘all philosophic theories are
necessarily metaphoric in nature’. (41)
After reviewing the history of philosophy from the pre-Socratics to
Chomsky, Lakoff and Johnson conclude their book with an ‘empirically
responsible’ look at ‘person’, ‘evolution’, and ‘spirituality’. (42) Contrary to the
traditional western conception of the person, which is influenced by the
claim for God’s universality, they say that a person is embodied and has a
pluralistic morality. Turning to evolution, they recognise that it does not
entail ‘survival of the best competitor’ (43) because it could equally entail the
‘survival of the best nurtured’. They say ‘nothing of this sort is part of literal
evolutionary theory’. And the idea of the disembodied soul central to the
biblical tradition is a fiction only explicable through understanding how
humans perceive and think in their bodies through metaphor.
Lakoff and Johnson propose an ‘embodied spirituality’ because without
‘sex and art and music and dance and the taste of food’ spirituality is ‘bland’.
Their ‘philosophy in the flesh’ shows how our physical being with its ‘flesh,
blood, and sinew, hormone, cell, and synapse’ makes us ‘who we are’. (44)
From Lakoff and Johnson to Shakespeare
The weight of empirical evidence Lakoff and Johnson muster in support of
the priority of the body over the mind lends overwhelming scientific support
to the natural logic Shakespeare articulates in his Sonnets. Their investigation
of the significance of metaphor for cognitive processes shows that much of
human thinking is based in unconsciously stored bodily metaphors that
determine how the world is viewed. Their findings support the attitude
evident in Shakespeare’s drama, Duchamp’s art and Mallarmé’s poetry, which
are self-critical toward the imagery they use to convey meaning.
Yet despite the overwhelming support for natural logic from Lakoff and
Johnson’s empirical work, a number of times throughout their book they
equivocate over the relation between the literal and the metaphorical. While
sometimes recognising the presence of the literal, within a paragraph or so
they assert that all understanding is metaphorical. It is as if their intensive
research into metaphors continually forces out any consideration of the
significance of literal expression. They devote no space to explaining the
relation between the literal and metaphorical.
The essay will now consider the example of Darwin, Wittgenstein,
Duchamp, and then Shakespeare to show why philosophy involves the clear
understanding of the difference between the literal and the metaphorical.
Lakoff and Johnson’s demonstration that the body is prior to the mind
through their scientific analysis of cognitive processes is in complete
agreement with Darwin’s argument in The Descent of Man that the mind is
derived through evolutionary processes. In Darwin’s discussion of ‘mental
powers’ and ‘moral sense’ he shows that the mind exhibits no features not
explicable through evolutionary processes and that there is no support for
a belief in the separation of mind and body.
But while Lakoff and Johnson and Darwin arrive at the same conclusions
about the relation of the body and mind, their conceptions of the role
of philosophy are quite different. Whereas Lakoff and Johnson view
philosophy as just another area of understanding subject to scientific investigation,
Darwin uses his philosophic understanding to structure his investigations
and present his findings.
In The Origin of Species Darwin employs a philosophic approach advocated
by the philosopher William Whewell (1794-1866). To give the mass of
evidence he had accumulated in support of evolution a sound basis he
adhered strictly to the principle of vera causa. By first presenting evidence
for empirically observable phenomena he was able to make logical claims
about events not directly observable. Darwin organised Origin of Species so
that his work on artificial variation in domestic species became the basis for
his generalisations about natural variation over evolutionary time.
Darwin’s standing in the scientific community is a direct consequence
of his lifelong adherence to the principle of vera causa. His work has an
integrity and veracity unmatched by other writers whose findings involve
both direct observation and reasoned speculation. In terms of the difference
between the literal and the metaphorical established by Lakoff and Johnson,
Darwin first laid out his groundwork of literal observations before embarking
on his metaphorical suggestions for the prehistory of evolution. For him
philosophy was not a subject for empirical examination as it provided the
foundation on which everything else rested.
Darwin’s philosophy was not susceptible to theoretical revision. The
consistency of his life’s work rested on a secure philosophic foundation that
enabled him to explain successfully the evolution of ‘mental powers’ and
‘moral sense’. The opposite is the case for Lakoff and Johnson. Even though
the results of their empirical research are in accord with natural logic, their
equivocation about whether the literal is literal or unavoidably metaphorical
epitomises their confusion over the status and role of philosophy.
The consequence of Lakoff and Johnson’s subjection of philosophy to
empirical review is their conflation of the literal and metaphorical. They
were unwilling to appreciate that philosophy identifies the logical conditions
for understanding on which metaphorical cognitions are constructed.
The literal basis of language is the precondition for metaphorical development.
Darwin’s genius lies in never confusing his philosophic method
with his empirical investigations. The significance of Darwin’s appreciation
that philosophy provides the logical groundwork for any scientific investigation
(after all Lakoff and Johnson said that their scientific analysis was
couched in metaphor) will become apparent when Wittgenstein’s attitude
to philosophy is considered.
The other constant in Darwin’s philosophic approach is his awareness of
the sexual as the logical basis for the erotic logic of the human mind.
Darwin’s focus on the sexual in both The Origin of Species and in The Descent
of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex recognises that the sexual is the logically
prior condition for human persistence. In The Descent of Man Darwin first
considers the logic of human descent from mammalian forbears and then
spends two thirds of the volume considering secondary sexual characteristics.
From the literal status of the sexual evolves all the secondary sexual
characteristics including the erotic logic of the mind.
For Darwin, the sexual is the prototypical human activity in the logic
of evolution. The erotic dynamic of the mind follows from its prototypical
status. Yet in Lakoff and Johnson’s books on cognitive metaphor, the sexual
and the erotic barely rate a mention, and are not analysed systematically as
are traditional metaphysical concepts such as ‘being’, ‘cause’ and ‘time’ and
other theoretical concepts of academic philosophy. Lakoff and Johnson’s
unwillingness to investigate the pervasiveness of the sexual and sexual
metaphor across cultures shows an ignorance of Darwinian scientific
principles and blindness to his appreciation of the function of philosophy.
Ironically, in a book titled Philosophy in the Flesh Lakoff and Johnson do
not consider the sexual connotations of the word ‘flesh’. Nor do they
consider the role of metaphor in the highest form of metaphorical
expression, the mythological, where, for instance, the Son of God is called
the ‘Word made Flesh’. Even though they say they want to provide an
‘empirically responsible philosophy’ that critiques the ‘objectivist myth’ and
‘subjectivist myth’ of the last 2500 years, their use of the word myth to
characterise philosophical theories reveals an ignorance of the logical conditions
for mythic expression.
Ludwig Wittgenstein: the grounding of philosophy
The work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, who some consider the most profound
of the twentieth-century philosophers, offers a way to understand better the
relation between the literal and the metaphorical. While Lakoff and Johnson
acknowledge Wittgenstein’s contribution to removing ‘mistaken views about
conceptualisation and reasoning’ with his notion of ‘family resemblances’,
for them his work comes before the ‘age of cognitive science’.45 They do
not investigate his views on the function of philosophy or on the status of
The absence of an extended discussion of Wittgenstein in Part 3 of
Philosophy in the Flesh, which considers a number of lesser philosophers, is
intriguing. The neglect is most likely because Wittgenstein’s understanding
of the function of philosophy is quite different from that expounded by
Lakoff and Johnson. Whereas they see philosophy as an ongoing procedure
similar to their investigations as cognitive scientists, and hence subject to the
critique of science, Wittgenstein understood philosophy as a way of seeing
the logical conditions for life as clearly as possible, and a way of critiquing
views that were at odds with the logical conditions for life.
So when Wittgenstein philosophised he accepted as a grounding those
things in life it makes no sense to question. Among these were the state of
‘nature’, ‘parents’, ‘family’, ‘forebears’, and the everyday objects and events
that form the basis of certainty. Wittgenstein is the first philosopher not to
use philosophical argument to justify a religious or otherwise metaphorical
understanding of the world. In Lakoff and Johnson’s terms, he first clarified
those things that are literal and then used them as a basis for evaluating the
logic of metaphorical speculations.
Wittgenstein progressed only gradually toward the clarity of his later
thought expressed in On Certainty but his attitude to the function of
philosophy remained constant throughout his life. In the Tractatus he hoped
to demonstrate the logic of the relation between the world and language
but failed because he was using the inappropriate atomism of Russell and
Frege. The world of discreet atoms and molecules did not have the correct
logical multiplicity to capture the complexity of language. His failure in the
Tractatus indirectly revealed the conceit in traditional metaphorical
theorising and led to his appreciation of the groundedness of understanding
in nature. He developed an approach based on life or nature, drawing on
natural metaphors to capture more exactly the logic of language.
In Wittgenstein’s second period of writing he determined that language
was subject like games to conventions or rules, but as with the infinite variety
of games there seemed to be no single set of criteria to apply to all language
games. Instead, language games were forms of life analogous to biological
relationships such as family resemblances. As language is logically a social
construct and not a private monologue, its rules could be examined to gauge
how words are used in everyday language. Wittgenstein argued that,
compared with the inconsistencies found in traditional metaphysical speculation,
everyday speech was logically sound. So an analysis of ordinary
language was more likely to reveal the structure and criteria for human
cognition and expression.
Contrary to Lakoff and Johnson, for Wittgenstein philosophy did not
entail proposing philosophical theories that were subject to scientific analysis.
Philosophy was the logical means to evaluate any form of expression
whether scientific or artistic for the consistency between its literal and
metaphorical statements. Even though Wittgenstein had difficulty accepting
all the implications of Darwinian evolution for the nature of the human
mind, he used the same approach as Darwin for maintaining a philosophic
poise throughout his life.
Lakoff and Johnson’s equivocation over the role of the literal has been
noted. As they are driven by their cognitive scientific discoveries in the realm
of metaphorical expression they could not accommodate the literal and so
cannot accommodate Wittgenstein’s challenge to 2500 years of philosophical
theorising to which they tied their project. Because they cannot appreciate
the logic of the literal then their assertions about the significance of
metaphor is awry, and their characterisation of ‘theories’ as ‘myths’ is symptomatic
of their unphilosophic approach to science. By claiming that
philosophy is based in theory they remain within the ambit of the academic
philosophy they critique in Part 3 of Philosophy in the Flesh.
Some of Wittgenstein’s last writings were on the philosophy of
psychology. He investigated rather simple optical illusions to better understand
the relation between ‘seeing’ literally and ‘seeing as’ metaphorically.
But despite his clarity about the function of philosophy Wittgenstein was
unable to develop a systematic expression of the relation between literal and
metaphorical languages. If Wittgenstein sensed a gap in his understanding
of language, Lakoff and Johnson seem not to be aware of the illogicality in
mistaking psychology for philosophy.
Marcel Duchamp: the sexual and the erotic
Philosophy in the Flesh, for reasons known to the authors, did not analyse the
metaphorical status of myth or examine the implications of its erotic logic.
Despite the metaphorical richness of their title they restricted themselves
to more prosaic metaphors and image schemas. In their final chapter Lakoff
and Johnson do consider the implications of the embodied mind for
‘persons’, ‘evolution’, and ‘spirituality’, where they discuss the idea of an
embodied God, but they end by advocating a panentheism in which the
divine is seen in all things (45). They are unable to identify the logical conditions
for mythologies much less the mythological basis of John’s Gospel,
which talks of the ‘word made flesh’.
Yet, if the history of metaphorical language is to be fairly scrutinised,
mythologies, as the most significant expression in the language, should surely
be subjected to the same investigative processes as bodily dispositions and
the history of ‘objectivist philosophy’. And if the sexual process is the logical
dynamic for the perpetuation of humankind then the erotic logic of
language should be the foremost in an analysis of the history of metaphor.
Lakoff and Johnson’s reluctance to make the sexual/erotic central in their
challenge to the objectivist tradition arises in part from the general ignorance
of the erotic logic of all mythologies. As long as mythologies were believed
to be literal stories where a male God creates the world and makes the male
then the female and then returns through a virgin to be reincarnated as his
own son, to die on a cross and be resurrected, then the eroticism central to
such stories was proscribed to the extent that no philosopher, even those as
secular or sceptical as Kant and Hume and Wittgenstein, has examined the
implications of eroticism in myth.
Only the work of Stephane Mallarmé and Marcel Duchamp begins to
grasp the deep illogicality of taking biblical mythology literarily. Mallarmé
was able to work past the illogicalities of his Christian upbringing to create
poetry of deep eroticism with an awareness that eroticism derives logically
from the sexual. His deeply symbolic poetry shows how to write with
consistency at a proto-mythic level.
Duchamp then took the process a step further. Learning from Mallarmé’s
achievement, his major work, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even
or the Large Glass, sets down the logical conditions for any mythic expression.
He purposely represents the female above the male to establish the
correct priority of female over male and shows how their unconsummated
relationship is basic to the erotic logic of artistic expression. He first accepts
the logic of the literal as a precondition and then gives it metaphorical expression.
In the Large Glass he takes that expression to its mythical limit without
losing the consistency of his original insight into the literal relations in life.
Lakoff and Johnson’s lack of awareness of Mallarmé and of Duchamp’s
achievement is not surprising, as Duchamp’s Large Glass has not received
the philosophic attention it warrants and only a critic like Octavio Paz has
shown an awareness of its critique of traditional mythologies. Without the
tools for mythic analysis critics end up speculating about Duchamp’s sexual
predilections, or turn hopefully to biblical or other mythologies.
Duchamp’s achievement is similar to Darwin’s in that both recognise the
need to reject the priority of the male-God prejudices of traditional beliefs
to arrive at consistent understanding. Their appreciation of the logic of art
and biology respectively inverts the literal belief in the biblical myths. Only
then can Darwin’s empirical research conform to his logical expectations.
And Duchamp first establishes the logical conditions for any artistic
expression before he makes readymade items of extraordinary simplicity but
with mythic impact.
Despite Lakoff and Johnson’s suggestion of a panentheism to replace the
illogicality of biblical priorities, they insist that only through empirical
evidence can the case against objectivism be won. Yet while Darwin’s case
was virtually undeniable through the preponderance of evidence alone, he
stands apart from all other evolutionary thinkers and the volumes of facts
disclosed in support of evolution by his logical exactness and rigour.
So there seems to be a co-relation between Lakoff and Johnson’s determination
to depend on the empirical and their unwillingness to provide
evidence if not argument for the role of the sexual/erotic in language. In a
personal comment Johnson said he was aware of the omission from
Philosophy in the Flesh and wanted to address the issues but Lakoff and he
‘agreed that there was not sufficient empirical evidence from their researches
to provide an adequate analysis’. But Darwin shows that no amount of facts
and figures can make up for an absence of logical insight in the challenge
to the illogicalities in traditional apologetics.
Shakespeare lived in the period when the methods of science were being
redefined by thinkers such as Francis Bacon. He was a contemporary of
Galileo and would have been aware of the astronomical theories of
Copernicus. There were also considerable advances in other sciences in the
Renaissance, particularly when compared with the relatively anti-scientific
attitude of the Mediaeval period.
Shakespeare’s interest in a philosophy grounded in natural observations
is evident in his regard for Aristotle, who challenged Plato’s otherworldly
idealism with a nature-based metaphysics and ethics. But Aristotle was still
conditioned by Platonic ideas about the place of man in nature and the roles
of men and women.
When the logic of Shakespeare’s Sonnet philosophy is considered it should
not surprise that his arguments are firmly based in observations of nature.
What could seem surprising to theory-based expectations of thinkers like
Lakoff and Johnson is that Shakespeare’s logic anticipates the discoveries of
Darwin, the language philosophy of Wittgenstein, the mythic logic of
Duchamp, and their own appreciation of the cognitive structure of language.
If it is possible to understand the world aright without waiting for the
results of scientific enquiry, then Shakespeare’s Sonnet logic seems to do just
that. It is both evidential and predictive in a way that Lakoff and Johnson’s
programme is not. A scientific approach using the theoretical tools of
cognitive science could not reveal the logic of mythic expression available
in the Sonnets.
When Shakespeare’s Sonnet logic is laid alongside Darwin’s logic, it seems
that 300 years previously he had accepted the logical priority of the body
over the mind. His argument that increase in nature from female and male
progenitors is prior to the possibility of truth and beauty not only correctly
places the body before the mind, it establishes the correct relationship
between aesthetics and ethics, something Lakoff and Johnson fail to derive
from their scientific analysis of language.
When the Sonnet logic is compared with the two periods of philosophy
of Wittgenstein, it provides a critique of the atomic model Wittgenstein
employed in the Tractatus by insisting that the human dynamic of male and
female in nature is the required model for the correct logical multiplicity
between language and the world. It anticipates Wittgenstein’s rejection of
the atomic model and his move toward a model based in nature and the
The similarity between Shakespeare’s philosophy that lays down the
logical conditions for life and Wittgenstein’s attempt to do the same in his
second period counters Lakoff and Johnson’s claim that only science can
resolve philosophical problems. In fact the Sonnet philosophy encompasses
Wittgenstein’s two periods of philosophising. It is more consistently
systematic than the Tractatus hoped to be, and more true to life than
Philosophical Investigations was able to be.
The poetry of Stephane Mallarmé, with its densely metaphorical
symbolism, should be explicable by the scientific techniques of Lakoff and
Johnson. But if they are unprepared to investigate biblical expressions such
as ‘word made flesh’, then they are not in a position to appreciate Mallarmé’s
recognition that language as a product of the mind is logically erotic.
Mallarmé held Shakespeare in high regard and emulated his writing, giving
his own poetry a similar density of metaphorical allusion, though he lacked
Shakespeare’s mythic sensibility.
It is Marcel Duchamp who provides the logical connection between
Mallarmé and Shakespeare, even though Duchamp did not know of Shakespeare’s
comprehensive articulation of the mythic dynamic. Shakespeare
bridges the gap between Duchamp’s largely pictorial and barely annotated
appreciation of the mythic logic of art and Lakoff and Johnson’s demonstrations
of the corporeal logic of words in language. In his Sonnets he more
completely and precisely sets down the logical conditions for mythic
expression, and in his 38 plays and four longer poems he shows how to write
at a mythic level by using the sexual/erotic resources of language.
Shakespeare’s use of imagery, because it is based in the natural logic of
language that acknowledges the priority of the body over the mind,
conforms to Lakoff and Johnson’s critique of the objectivist tradition 400
years before their research laid bare the body schematic logic of language.
Shakespeare’s hierarchy of images conforms to Lakoff and Johnson’s determination
that categories of thought or objects are classified in language as
‘super ordinate, basic level, and subordinate’. (46) An analysis of Shakespeare’s
images by Caroline Spurgeon in Shakespeare’s Imagery (47) reveals a preference
for the prototypical as against the generic or the specific. He uses the generic
and specific in the speech of characters who are either pompous or foolish.
The organisation of the Sonnets is precise in its recognition of the priority
of the female over the male and the body over the mind or the sexual over
the erotic. The two sequences devoted to female and male and the 14
increase sonnets establish the physical basis for truth and beauty or the
dynamic of understanding.
But because the physical is archetypically sexual Shakespeare takes the
logical step avoided by Lakoff and Johnson to characterise the process of
thought and language as archetypically erotic. If Lakoff and Johnson had
carried out even a cursory examination of myths they would have recognised
the ubiquity of the erotic in all mythologies.
The erotic logic at the heart of all mythologies provides a reflexive acknowledgement
of the priority of the body over the mind. As works of literature
at the highest level, mythologies express the logical conditions for their effectiveness
as myth. Their erotic logic acknowledges the priority of the sexual
dynamic over the dynamic of the mind. The history of religious belief and
theology, though, has illogically concluded that the erotic basis of myth
points to a world beyond sexual contingency.
The logical mistake is at the crux of the problem Lakoff and Johnson
investigate empirically as cognitive scientists with their critique of the ‘objectivist’
tradition. But empirical evidence is not needed for an appreciation of
the logic of myth. Ironically the required logic is hinted at in their title
Philosophy in the Flesh.
Lakoff and Johnson’s engagement with the history of thought brings with
it an awareness not just of the body as the logical basis for language but of
the ‘flesh’ as the living vehicle for communication. But while their analysis
of traditional image schemas examines many aspects of human expression
they stop short of questioning the succinct expression of the word and flesh
in the mythic logic of the Bible.
By confining their challenge to the last 2500 years of the objectivist
tradition Lakoff and Johnson are unable to consider the origins of male
dominance and male God religions to see why philosophy became a matter
of justifying the status of the male God rather than articulating the logic of
life. If they expanded their perspective beyond the 4000 years since the male
usurpation of female priority and considered the evidence from the artifacts
of the last 30,000 years, they would see more clearly the reasons behind their
inability to appreciate the logic of life.
Lakoff and Johnson’s unwillingness to address the relationship between
literal language and embodied metaphor is symptomatic of the unwillingness
of the objectivist tradition to accept the primacy of nature and the priority
of the female over the male. The logic of life does not need the sanction of
Lakoff and Johnson’s attack on the objectivist tradition using the tools
of cognitive science is an attempt to rectify the illogical consequences of the
God template derived in these volumes from Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Because
the objectivist tradition idealises the function of the mind, and seeks to
categorise ideas about the world into tidy sets, Lakoff and Johnson recognise
the need to invert the traditional views of the world.
But their challenge does not question the whole of the illogical God
template, and instead focuses on the relation of false and true and true and
false in the first part of the template. Because the dynamic of true and false
is the province of science, it becomes immediately clear why they equivocate
over the literal and the metaphorical, why they still talk of understanding
‘truth’, and why they are not drawn to critique ideas at the level
of the mythic.
Shakespeare shows in his Sonnets that the only way to correct 4000 years
of male-based illogicality is to completely turn about the mythological
template behind traditional thought to re-establish the priority of nature
and the female so that the logic of language is not compromised. He is then
able in his plays to generate a mythic level of expression with consistency.
Nature template (Sonnet numbers)
The tendency for scientists to believe they can provide answers to the
unanswerable questions about human life in the universe, simply because
they can answer questions about observable phenomena, leads Lakoff and
Johnson to subject philosophical questions to their scientific programme. But
Darwin, at the highest level of empirical integrity, has shown that the role
of science is proscribed by the logic of life. And as Duchamp has shown,
the logic of myth can be expressed without an empirical programme, and
he also shows in the hilarious mechanisms of the Large Glass how the
pretences of science can be mocked in a work with mythic integrity.
Shakespeare’s Sonnets are exemplary in their combination of both
empirical observation of human behaviour and language and in their
expression of the logical conditions for any mythic possibility. They seem
to be the only text available that seamlessly combines an understanding of
the potentialities of the scientific and the possibilities of the mythic.
1 Mark Johnson, The Body in the Mind, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1987. BackRoger Peters Copyright © 2005
2 George Lakoff, Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things, Chicago, Chicago of University Press, 1987. Back
3 George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, Chicago, Chicago University Press, 1980. Back
4 George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh, New York, Basic Books, 1999. Back
5 Ibid., p. xi. Back
6 George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, p. 146. Back
7 Ibid., p. 10. Back
8 Ibid., p. 10. Back
9 Ibid., p. 180. Back
10 Ibid., pp. 186-8. Back
11 Ibid., pp. 189-90. Back
12 Ibid., p. 229. Back
13 Ibid., p. 230. Back
14 George Lakoff, Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things, p. 92. Back
15 Ibid., pp. xv-xvi. Back
16 Ibid., p. 13. Back
17 Mark Johnson, The Body in the Mind, p. ix. Back
18 Ibid., p. x. Back
19 Ibid., p. xi. Back
20 Ibid., p. xiii. Back
21 Ibid., p. xiv. Back
22 Ibid., p. xvi. Back
23 Ibid., p. xx. Back
24 Ibid., p. xxi. Back
25 Ibid., p. xxxvi. Back
26 Ibid., p. xxxvii. Back
27 Ibid., p. 212. Back
28 Ibid., p. 213. Back
29 George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh, p. xi. Back
30 Ibid., p. 3. Back
31 Ibid., p. 4. Back
32 Ibid., p. 6. Back
33 Ibid., p. 8. Back
34 Ibid., p. 11. Back
35 Ibid., p. 12. Back
36 Ibid., p. 15. Back
37 Ibid., p. 129. Back
38 Ibid., p. 134. Back
39 Ibid., p. 338. Back
40 Ibid., p. 342. Back
41 Ibid., p. 345. Back
42 Ibid., p. 552. Back
43 Ibid., p. 561. Back
44 Ibid., p. 568. Back
45 Ibid., p. 567. Back
46 George Lakoff, Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things, p.46. Back
47 Caroline Spurgeon, Shakespeare's Imagery: and what it tells us, Cambridge University Press, 1971. Back
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