TA 110 (Mind and Metaphysics)

Commentary 7

by Herbert FJ Müller
29 November 2008, posted 6 December 2008


In an influential book (‘Metaphors we live by’, 1980/2003) George Lakoff and Mark Johnson write that there are  ‘natural structures’ which arise in experience.  They suggest (p.224) that this idea should replace both  ‘objectivism’  which proposes absolute meanings, independent of what people experience, and also  ‘subjectivism’  which tends to be understood as implying  that all meanings are conventions or even arbitrary.  The essence of the proposed natural structures did not become entirely clear to me, but from what they write it seems that they regard them as  ‘given’  by and in experience. 

This proposal is tied to the  ‘nature of our bodies’  and  ‘interaction with the environment’  from which gestalt-formations result which  ‘structure our experience coherently’  and  ‘naturally’  in terms of  ‘metaphors’  (p.230).    They call this experience ‘embodied’ and suggest that it is related to physiology;  but although the term ‘embodiment’ appears to be central to their reasoning, it did not really become clear to me.    For instance they write that   ‘our brains are embodied’  (p.257) which is difficult to understand because the brain is a part of the body.  They want to show the ‘neural basis of metaphors’, etc.   And thus, despite their rejection of objectivity,  they still  base themselves on  (objective) physiology, and talk about ‘ontological metaphors’, which refer to the  physiology of our bodies. 

Lakoff and Johnson write that the objectivist meaning  (they refer here to Frege, for instance)  ‘is disembodied’, independent of anything humans do, in either speaking or acting (p.199).   This meaning of  ‘disembodied’  is quite close to the one of ‘mind-independent reality belief’ (MIR), with the main difference that it centers on objectifiable entities like speech and action, in contrast to experience, which I think is the decisive aspect.     But so far I am not certain that emphasizing  ‘bodies’  is helpful, compared to terms like  ‘MIR’ versus ‘0-D’.    Indeed the ‘body’ notion defeats the stated purpose, because it results once more in an objectivist pseudo-explanation.

I suppose that the rejection of objectivism can be interpreted as de-construction of metaphysics;   however here again the de-construction is incomplete, since in effect they nevertheless want to reduce experience to neurophysiology, like in the other ‘physicalist  proposals which were discussed earlier in the present  reviews of  ‘mind and metaphysics’.   The physiology,  in other words, is not de-constructed.    The implied given-ness of  ‘natural structures’,  without de-construction,  prevents  an active subject-inclusive 0-D design.


Herbert FJ Müller
     e-mail <herbert.muller (at) mcgill. ca>