MOTTO: Know you not that I must be about my mother's business

  • QUIETUS (The Quaternary Investigation into
    the Evolution Toward the Uniqueness in
    ) examines the social and
    political implications of a consistent philosophy
    in Shakespeare's Sonnets, poems and plays.

    The Institute for the Quaternary Evolution in Shakespearen Thought
    The Quaternary Institute
    Quaternary Institute & Quaternary Imprint



    Roger Peters Copyright © 2005


    The first edition of the 4 volume set William Shakespeare's Sonnet Philosophy [2005] is still available.


    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.

    Lakoff & Johnson - Flesh in the Mind


    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 scrutiny.
          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 their title.
          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 Shakespeare’s philosophy.

    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 philosophy. (31)
          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 syntax. (32)
          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.

    Charles Darwin

    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 ‘philosophical theories’.
          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.

    William Shakespeare

    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 family dynamic.
          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 scientific theories.

    God Template

    God Template

          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)

    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. Back
    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

    Roger Peters Copyright © 2005

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