Beyond propositionality: metaphor in the embodied mind

  • Alex Golding

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis proposes a synthesis of ideas from relevance theory’s conceptual and propositional approach to utterance interpretation with assumptions about the role of non-propositional elements, such as percepts, images and feelings, from embodied cognition. It begins by considering the traditional view of metaphor (reflected in the work of Grice) as involving the transfer of properties from a metaphor vehicle to a target. Relevance theory’s account of metaphoric interpretation makes critical developments to these traditional explanations. It describes the manner in which conceptual and propositional representations are accessed in the interpretation of metaphor using the notion of an ad-hoc concept construction. According to this account, the hearer of a metaphor inferentially develops the encoded concept to an occasion-specific ad-hoc concept, which resembles the speaker’s thought more closely. The thesis points out problems with the relevance-theoretic account, most notably its failure to account for intuitions about the role of non-propositional elements in the comprehension of at least some novel metaphors. It considers a range of approaches which have aimed to handle non-propositional components, including Davidson’s entirely non-propositional, non-communicative approach, and suggests that the solution is to be found in adopting a more embodied view of cognition. It argues that relevance theory’s communicative and cognitive approach to language use needs to be broadened to include an embodied notion of a concept in which the conceptual regions of cognition have access to the sensorimotor system, the affective sites for feeling and the physiological representations implicit in emotional responses. Accordingly, propositional (conceptual) and non-propositional representations can be activated simultaneously during the interpretation of a metaphor. Extending the relevance-theoretic account in this way can solve some of the problems that remain with it. In particular, it helps to explain how the comprehension of novel metaphors can sometimes lead to the derivation of socalled ‘emergent properties’, those elements of metaphorical meaning which emerge, but are typically associated with neither the vehicle nor the target concept.
Date of AwardMay 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorTim Wharton (Supervisor)

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