The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

Metaphor as Meaning

Drawing from Black's interactionist theory, and its vision of metaphor's dual content (literal and metaphorical, "vehicle" and "topic"), as well as from Ferdinand de Saussure's theory of signs, the US philosopher Eva Kittay developed a "relational" theory of meaning for metaphor. Her principle was that the meaning of a word is determined by other words that are related to it by the lexicon. Meaning is not an item: it is a field. A semantic field is a group of words that are semantically related to each other. Metaphor is a process that transfers semantic structures between two semantic fields: some structures of the first field create or reorganize a structure in the second field. 

The meaning of a word consists of all the literal senses of that word.  A literal sense consists of a conceptual content, a set of conditions, or semantic combination rules (permissible semantic combinations of the word, analogous to Fodor's selection-restriction rules), and a semantic field indicator (relation of the conceptual content to other concepts in a content domain).  An interpretation of an utterance is any of the senses of that utterance.  Projection rules combine lower-level units into higher-level units according to their semantic combination rules. A first-order interpretation of an utterance is derived from a valid combination of the first-order meanings of its constituents. Second-order interpretation is a function of first-order interpretation and expresses the intuitive fact that what has to be communicated is not what is indicated by the utterance's literal meaning. 

Semantic fields help to recognize an utterance as a metaphor. For example, an explicit cue to the metaphorical nature of an utterance is when the first-order and the second-order interpretation point to two distinct semantic fields.

The cognitive force of a metaphor comes from a re-conceptualization of information about the world that has already been acquired but possibly not conceptualized.

Ultimately, Kittay thinks that metaphorical meaning is not reducible to literal meaning. Metaphor is, de facto, second-order meaning.


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