Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought

Lakoff, George

What are human beings like? How is knowledge possible? What is truth? Where do moral values come from? Questions like these have stood at the center of Western philosophy for centuries. In addressing them, philosophers have made certain fundamental assumptions--that we can know our own minds by introspection, that most of our thinking about the world is literal, and that reason is disembodied and universal--that are now called into question by well-established results of cognitive science. It has been shown empirically that:Most thought is unconscious. We have no direct conscious access to the mechanisms of thought and language. Our ideas go by too quickly and at too deep a level for us to observe them in any simple way.Abstract concepts are mostly metaphorical. Much of the subject matter of philosopy, such as the nature of time, morality, causation, the mind, and the self, relies heavily on basic metaphors derived from bodily experience. What is literal in our reasoning about such concepts is minimal and conceptually impoverished. All the richness comes from metaphor. For instance, we have two mutually incompatible metaphors for time, both of which represent it as movement through space: in one it is a flow past us and in the other a spatial dimension we move along.Mind is embodied. Thought requires a body--not in the trivial sense that you need a physical brain to think with, but in the profound sense that the very structure of our thoughts comes from the nature of the body. Nearly all of our unconscious metaphors are based on common bodily experiences.Most of the central themes of the Western philosophical tradition are called into question by these findings. The Cartesian person, with a mind wholly separate from the body, does not exist. The Kantian person, capable of moral action according to the dictates of a universal reason, does not exist. The phenomenological person, capable of knowing his or her mind entirely through introspection alone, does not exist. The utilitarian person, the Chomskian person, the poststructuralist person, the computational person, and the person defined by analytic philosopy all do not exist.Then what does? Lakoff and Johnson show that a philosopy responsible to the science of mind offers radically new and detailed understandings of what a person is. After first describing the philosophical stance that must follow from taking cognitive science seriously, they re-examine the basic concepts of the mind, time, causation, morality, and the self: then they rethink a host of philosophical traditions, from the classical Greeks through Kantian morality through modern analytic philosopy. They reveal the metaphorical structure underlying each mode of thought and show how the metaphysics of each theory flows from its metaphors. Finally, they take on two major issues of twentieth-century philosopy: how we conceive rationality, and how we conceive language.Philosopy in the Flesh reveals a radically new understanding of what it means to be human and calls for a thorough rethinking of the Western philosophical tradition. This is philosopy as it has never been seen before. Editorial Reviews Library Journal Written by distinguished Berkeley linguist Lakoff and his coauthor on Metaphors We Live By (1983), this book explores three propositions claimed as "major findings" of cognitive science: "The mind is inherently embodied. Thought is mostly unconscious. Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical." Cognitive science, with its basic materialist bent, applies computer-based concepts, a little neurophysiology, and linguistic theory to human mental life. It will, the authors say, drastically change philosophy. They seem to think that we are really run by our deep wiring and the cultural concepts that become embodied metaphors. While seeking clarity by drawing out the implications of their basic notions, they add new puzzles. What does it mean to say "reason is not disembodied"? Read this book to see how (some?) cognitive scientists think. But read it with Charles P. Siewert's recent The Significance of Consciousness (Princeton Univ., 1998) for the traditional notions of consciousness. Readers will find there's still room for their own judgments.--Leslie Armour, Univ. of Ottawa, Canada Booknews Argues that all of the traditions of Western philosophy of the mind have been based on false assumptions proven to be empirically false by the accomplishments of cognitive science. The authors attempt to point the way towards a philosophy of the mind founded on the premises that mental abstractions are metaphors for physical processes, most thought is unknowable by introspection, and the structure of thought is directly related to the nature of the body. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or. Edward Rothstein In [the authors'] view we are metaphorical beings who make the world in our image -- the image of the human body....We begin with our bodily exerience...create ever more intricate metaphors....Some resonate. And a few go even farther: they might be true.-- The New York Times Book Review

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