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Title: Metaphor through an evolutionary perspective on meaning
Author: Rahat, Ehud
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 1990
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This thesis applies a theory of meaning, suggested by Millikan (1984), for explaining the problematic notion of metaphorical meaning. There is a persistent tension in existing accounts of metaphorical meaning: on the one hand, the fact that metaphors are novel and creative uses of words suggest that no systematic account can be given to what metaphorical expressions mean. On the other hand, the fact that metaphors can, and are being used intelligibly in all areas of discourse, and that metaphorical interpretations can be distinguished from nonsensical interpretations, forces us to accept that there is a systematic relation between the words used and what they are said to mean metaphorically. I exemplify this tension by discussing three accounts of metaphor offered by Searle, Davidson, and Hesse. I then present Millikan's theory of meaning that is based on an analogy she makes between linguistic and biological catergories. Her basic claim is that linguistic entities can be ascribed with a proper function, just as biological entities are so ascribed, according to their evolutionary history. The proper function of a device is that function which earlier tokens of that device had performed, which (partly) accounts for the proliferation on that device. The proper function of a linguistic device, and the conditions that normally obtain when the device performs its function, determine the meaning of the device. Next, I counter Fodor's criticism of Millikan's approach. I show that the conditions which Millikan requires for attributing a meaning to a symbol satisfy Fodor's own suggestion for such conditions. His criticism must therefore apply to his own theory. I show, however, that it is Fodor's theory, rather than Millikan's, that suffers from a related problem to that which he has challenged her with. Finally, I apply Millikan's theory to the problem of metaphorical meaning. First, I discuss Millikan's own conception of metaphor, which is apparently similar to Searlc's. I urguc that her approach nevertheless manages to withstand most of the criticisms that apply to Searlc's theory. Next, I develop an alternative account of metaphor, based on Millikan's theory of meaning. My claim is that in the analogy between linguistic and biological catcrgories, metaphor is analogous to cases of mutation in biological systems: they arc the mechanism by which linguistic changes are introduced. To answer the question of metaphorical meaning, then, we need to ascertain the proper function of mutants. This proper function, I claim is the introduction of adaptive changes to existing devices. Analogously, metaphors have the proper function of introducing semantic changes to the words they arc comprised of. Two results follow from the analogy: first, an important insight from Millikan's theory is that any generalizations made about the structure and functioning of a device need only apply to those devices that do perform their proper function. Accordingly, any claims about systematicity in metaphorical meaning need only apply to metaphors that perform their proper function of introducing semantic change. That is, only to those metaphors that have become established in language. Conversely, not every one-off metaphor need to be accounted for. Second, evolution theory cannot be used to pre-dcterminc what particular function a device may acquire through selection, but nevertheless can characterize constraints on the acquisition of such functions. These constraints are determined by the evolutionary history of existing devices. Similarly, 1 claim that no account can be used to prc-dctermine what particular function a device may acquire through selection, but nevertheless can characterize constraints on the acquisition of such functions. These constraints are determined by the evolutionary history of the existing devices. Similarly, I claim that no account can be given that will uniquely determine the meaning that a metaphoric expression may acquire in the process of its becoming an established part of a language. This reflects the first aspects of tension described above, concerning the novelty and indeterminacy of metaphorical meaning. On the other hand, I argue that constraints on meaning change can be identified. This acknowledges the intuitions that metaphorical meaning is somewhat structured. The notion of metaphorical meaning should be understood as applying to that range of possible meanings, determined by the constraints referred to above, which a metaphor may acquire as it becomes established. This understanding of the notion coherently captures the two apparently opposing characteristics of metaphor.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available