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Metaphor and Varieties of Meaning


DOI: 10.1111/b.9780470673706.2013.00022.x


In discussions of metaphor, Davidson is (in)famous for claiming that metaphorical utterances lack any distinctive, nonliteral meaning. But there is much less agreement about just what he means by this. In this article, I explicate this claim as it occurs in “What Metaphors Mean” (1978) and relate it to his reflections on language in “A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs” (1986), leaving the project of locating both papers within his broader views on interpretation for another time. In Section 1, I argue that despite some puzzling inconsistencies, the overall thrust of “What Metaphors Mean” is a radical form of noncogitivism. In Section 2, I argue that in “Nice Derangement,” Davidson applies several of the arguments offered against metaphorical meanings in “What Metaphors Mean” to linguistic meaning more generally; but his criteria for what counts as “meaning” have shifted to include context-local word meaning alongside Gricean speaker's meaning. With respect to metaphor, he appears to have abandoned his previous noncognitivism for an analysis in terms of speaker's meaning, but it is not clear that this new view is justified by his new model of meaning. In Section 3, I articulate and evaluate a neo-Davidsonian view of metaphor, which retains as much as possible from both papers. The central claim of “What Metaphors Mean” is clear: “Metaphors mean what the words, in their most literal interpretation, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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