Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Metaphor as imaginative rationality

In the IPS thread on a book about polydoxy the issue of metaphor came up. Mary said the following:

There is also a way in which metaphors, representative of our own lived experiences, are "more than" comparisons and similes. Here's a quote from David Richo's Catholic Means Universal that I've found helpful (Richo is a former Catholic who now considers himself Buddhist, btw):

"Gregory Baum, in Religion and Alienation, says that 'idolotry is absolutizing the finite and elevating a part to a whole.' There are two extremes. Taking teachings literally is idolatrous. Taking them as merely metaphorical in the literary sense is reductionist. Somewhere between there is an archetypal richness that has an authentic foundation in the human psyche and in the reality of the felt world. The richness is not reached through an analyzing intellect, which will insist on choosing either literal and/or metaphorical. It is reached by contact. It is a participatory experience. It happens at the soul level, where conscious and unconscious meet and opposites reconcile. 'The spirit does not dwell in concepts but in deeds and facts,' says Jung. For instance, the Incarnation can be seen as a metaphorical way of acknowledging that supreme love becomes real only when it appears in human beings acting it out in history...."


Yes, I agree; Mary.  I am pretty sure that's how Borg views this -- as exceeding the bounds of straightforward, rational (or literary) comparison, flowing into participatory mystery at the outer edges of our knowing.


Metaphors arise from our embodiment, and yet it is not quite accurate to oppose metaphor with reason. What the critics call reason L&J would call false reason. Remember the baby and its bathwater. I will re-post this, originally posted in the Bortoft thread:

Getting back to the quote that begins this thread about imagination, Lakoff & Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By (available online at this link) talk about an experiential synthesis of reason and imagination called imaginative rationality.

“What we are offering in the experientialist account of understanding and truth is an alternative which denies that subjectivity and objectivity are our only choices. We reject the objectivist view that there is absolute and unconditional truth without adopting the subjectivist alternative of truth as obtainable only through the imagination, unconstrained by external circumstances. The reason we have focused so much on metaphor is that it unites reason and imagination. Reason, at the very least, involves categorization, entailment, and inference. Imagination, in one of its many aspects, involves seeing one kind of thing in terms of another kind of thing—what we have called metaphorical thought. Metaphor is thus imaginative rationality. Since the categories of our everyday thought are largely metaphorical and our everyday reasoning involves metaphorical entailments and inferences, ordinary rationality is therefore imaginative by its very nature. Given our understanding of poetic metaphor in terms of metaphorical entailments and inferences, we can see that the products of the poetic imagination are, for the same reason, partially rational in nature” (138-9).


  1. To be clear, I wasn't opposing metaphor and reason or appealing to 'false reason' in L&J's sense, and I don't think Mary (or the author she was quoting) was either. Yes, remember the baby in the bathwater!

  2. I wasn’t saying you were Balder. I was pointing to Rico, who borders on it when he said:

    “The richness is not reached through an analyzing intellect, which will insist on choosing either literal and/or metaphorical…. The spirit does not dwell in concepts but in deeds and facts.”

    There is no differentiation between this analyzing intellect and intellect, i.e., real and false reason. It seems intellect is just analyzing and concepts are apart from deeds and facts, whereas for L&J they are of not different in this way.

  3. Here is some more from Metaphors We Live By:

    “Metaphor is not merely a matter of language. It is a matter of conceptual structure. And conceptual structure is not merely a matter of the intellect—it involves all the natural dimensions of our experience, including aspects of our sense experiences: color, shape, texture, sound, etc…. Metaphors are not merely things to be seen beyond. In fact, one can see beyond them only by using other metaphors. It is as though the ability to comprehend experience through metaphor were a sense, like seeing or touching or hearing, with metaphors providing the only ways to perceive and experience much of the world. Metaphor is as much a part of our functioning as our sense of touch, and as precious” (235 - 8).

  4. Balder replied:

    Yes, I agree it would be problematic to try to separate intellect and concepts from deeds and facts in this way. Reading Richo's quotation, what I picked up on was a critique of a particular mode of interpretation or thinking: 'insist[ing] on choosing either literal and/or metaphorical.' I recently commented on a post by someone over on Facebook, where he was drawing a stark comparison between literal and metaphorical truths, and appeared to be insisting that science be seen as the realm of the literal and spirituality as the realm of the metaphorical and the two should be kept very distinct. I remarked to him that this struck me as an "Orange"/rationalist distinction -- which, here, I would identify as a mode of thinking which subscribes to 'false reason,' in L&J's terms. I took Richo to be criticizing such a rationalistic, non-participatory (non-embodied) dichotomy.


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