01 April 2005

The Significance of Metaphors

Fran O'Rourke's lecture, called in the event "Aristotle and the Metaphysics of Metaphor", was an overview of Aristotle's theory of metaphor, and its relationship to analogy.

The most interesting metaphors, Aristotle holds, are based on analogies. An analogy is an equivalence (or similarity) of proportions or relations. For instance, the relation among morning-afternoon-evening in the span of time which is a day, is similar to the relation among youth-midlife-old age in the span of time which is a life. One can therefore make a metaphor, by taking a name for a relatum in the one sequence, and applying it to the item which holds a similar position in the other sequence, either qualifying, e.g. "Old age is the evening of life", or not qualifying, e.g. "Old age is an evening time." In either case, the metaphor is interesting, because it calls to mind the similarity of the relationships in the different domains (likeness in difference).

O'Rourke proposed a variety of claims worth thinking about. I may raise them successively in later posts. His two chief claims were the following:

1. Many if not most of the metaphors we construct use sensible realities to indicate imperceptible realities. (To illustrate, O'Rourke gave a litany of metaphors we use to talk about ideas: we put an idea on the table; take it apart; walk around it; bring it to light; pick it apart; etc. etc.) This indicates, O' Rourke claimed, that we ourselves, who construct such metaphors, are unities of sensible and imperceptible realities: "...metaphor indicates a duality in human nature between body and psyche, sense and intellect; but also the ability to surpass this division. It reveals also, however, a more profound unity in human nature...Only a common element can bind what is diverse."

2. Metaphors can be more than merely poetic or rhetorical devices, only if reality displays a real interconnection, of the sort that the medievals referred to with their phrase 'the analogy of being'. "In the absence of genuine metaphysical analogy," O'Rourke claimed, "which binds entities through a proper likeness and similitude, there would be no real foundation for transferred or metaphoric resemblance."