The metaphorical problem : realism and anti-realism in the philosophy of metaphor
This thesis is concerned with the meaning of metaphors. In particular, it examines a contemporary dispute in the philosophy of language, primarily comprising critical responses to Donald Davidson’s seminal work in the area, which focuses on the question of whether metaphorical utterances, qua metaphors, ought to receive distinctive semantic evaluations. I treat this debate as an instance of a more general form of philosophical dispute, which has been explored in some detail in recent work on the nature of realism and anti-realism. The thesis has five chapters. In the first chapter, I outline, motivate and evaluate two contrasting approaches to realism, proposed by Michael Devitt and Crispin Wright. I argue that neither is wholly satisfactory, but that a modified version of Wright’s approach is likely to be most fruitful in the philosophy of metaphor. In the second chapter, I examine the character of Davidson’s anti-realism, concluding that he is best thought of as an error-theorist about metaphorical meaning. I go on to set out a unified Davidsonian argument for semantic and pragmatic anti-realism about metaphor, and offer a sustained discussion and partial defence of the six premises that such an argument proceeds from. My third chapter outlines a series of common objectives to Davidson’s views, and argues that error-theorists have the resources to address many of these criticisms in a fairly plausible manner. In the fourth chapter, I go on to investigate the realist standing of metaphorical meaning in more detail. I examine the open-endedness of metaphor in the light of Wright’s response-dependent theory of intention, and argue that this approach offers a novel response to certain anti-realist concerns. The fifth chapter concerns the relationship between metaphor and non-conceptual content. I argue that thinking of metaphorical meanings as non-conceptual entails that the non-propositional and limitless character of metaphor does not pose a fatal objection to a pragmatic realist account, contra Davidson. I apply my suggested account to two test cases: metaphors that describe one’s emotional state, and religious metaphors, and argue that in each case, thinking of the metaphors as expressing non-conceptual contents is potentially suggestive and helpful. In that chapter, I also examine the possibility of an robustly realist approach to metaphorical meanings, modelled on the epistemicist approach to vagueness set out in recent work by Timothy Williamson. I demonstrate how the dominant objection to this account can be partially defused, and go on to examine the final standing of the dispute between realist and anti-realist.