DS-2003-02: Imagining Metaphors: Cognitive Representation in Interpretation and Understanding

DS-2003-02: Brouwer, Elisabeth Catherine (2003) Imagining Metaphors: Cognitive Representation in Interpretation and Understanding. Doctoral thesis, University of Amsterdam.

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Imagining Metaphors: Cognitive Representation in Interpreation and Understanding
Elsbeth Brouwer


In Chapter 1 I consider the problem that poetic text poses to theories
of linguistic meaning. Interpretation of poetic text involves subjective
representations of meaning, that are considered normally to lie outside
the scope of a truth conditional semantics, or semantic theories on
propositional meaning; hence, the scarce occasions where poetic text is
mentioned in semantic theory, usually exclude it from the realm of
semantic interpretation. One aspect of poetic interpretation concerns an
allegorical, or metaphorical understanding of the text. Since the
semantic literature on metaphorical interpretation is abundant, I at
first restrain the topic of poetic interpretation to the metaphorical
interpretation of poetic text, and consider to what extent theories on
metaphor help explain it.

I consider first semantic perspectives, and then cognitive perspectives
on metaphor. Throughout the discussion of different theories, I focus on
possible implications for the metaphorical interpretation of poetic
text. In this discussion, it becomes clear that virtually all the
theories discussed relate metaphorical interpretation to the use of
imagination, or sometimes more specifically to the work of productive
imagination. However, none of the accounts discussed relates the role of
imagination in metaphorical interpretation to its possible role in the
conceptual understanding of common, non-poetic use of language. Hence,
it seems as if metaphors require an entirely different type of
interpretation than other utterances. Furthermore, examples can be
construed of a metaphorical interpretation of regular utterances in an
imaginatively construed context of interpretation. Hence, the process of
metaphorical interpretation is not applied to metaphors only, and must
then be characterized in another way than as prompted by linguistic or
semantic form. Furthermore, if an utterance can be interpreted
metaphorically, merely by imaginatively construing a different context,
then interpretation would seem to depend on how imagination is used in
it. The following chapter focuses first on how metaphorical
interpretation may be characterized by a specific role of imagination,
and second whether this role can be related to a role of imagination in
conceptual understanding.

In Chapter 2 I consider Kant's theory of imagination as presented in the
Critique of Pure Reason, and in the Critique of Judgement. Imagination,
in its more mundane, not a priori understanding, can take on a
productive as well as a reproductive role. When discussing how
metaphorical interpretation could be understood as based on productive
imagination, I consider how this may similarly be the case for regular,
conceptual understanding. Starting with Gibbons' interpretation of the
role of productive imagination in empirical judgements, I engage in a
speculation on whether imagination's reproductive role could be
understood in terms of its productive role. This speculation, of course,
brings the discussion quite beyond the realm of exegesis, and thus
should emphatically not be taken as an attempt to reconstruct what Kant
had in mind and did not write. Rather, it functions as a preliminary for
more elaborate suggestions of a cognitive model in the next chapter. My
speculations concern especially Kant's analysis of aesthetical
reflection, or more specifically the possibility of forming subjective
concepts on the basis of productive imagination. I suggest that this
account might be generalized into an account of concept formation. Thus,
my suggestions break with the possibility of objectivity, as I envision
a model of cognition based on conceptual combination of intuitive
presentations and imaginative representations in subjective reflection.
Thereby Kant's remarks on how subjective concepts may attain the status
of universals through the assumption of common ground, is well kept in
mind, to ensure a notion of intersubjectivity of concepts.

In Chapter 3 I first discuss two theories of concept formation, the
first of Renate Bartsch and the second of Lawrence Barsalou. Both in a
sense conform to the requirements set up for a model of cognition in the
speculations on a generalized faculty of subjective judgement. These
include an empirical, and not an a priori foundation for concepts, as
well as the general cognitive tools of productive imagination for the
conceptual combination of representations, namely recognition of
similarity and laws of association. The problem I encounter, then, is
that to assume that all concepts are produced in imagination, and do not
follow a priori rules of understanding, entails that the formation of
concepts is so radically subjective that common ground in concept
formation may no longer generally be assumed. Both models discussed
solve this problem by proposing an experiential grounding for the
conceptual system, by relating concepts causally to perceptually
processed properties of reality.

Nevertheless, such perceptual grounding is unwelcome in the case of
metaphorical interpretation. To understand the interpretation of
metaphor as seeing something as something else that hardly bears any
perceptual resemblance, entails a different function of conceptually
combining representation than the perceptual recognition of similarity
between representations can account for. Thus, I develop a different
approach, based on imaginative combination of representations in
interpretation. In the outlined approach, I use Bartsch's understanding
of how concept formation depends on and is furthered by the process of
learning language conform to regulated use of language in a speech
community, while I rely on Barsalou's account of cognitive
representation. In the outlined model an understanding of conventional
use of language is developed as based on using words that are learned to
be appropriate in a 'normal' context, while subjective interpretation is
based on associations between expressions or perceptual representations
on the basis of personal experience. In either case, understanding is
based on combining cognitive representations in imagination, on the
basis of what is experienced. Hence, every act of conceptualization
involves the productive combination of representations in imagination.
Conceptual, or routine, understanding and creative, or reflective,
interpretation are then considered as the opposite ends of a spectre of
acts of conceptualization, where the former is considered to involve
familiar combinations of representations, triggered by an utterance in a
context, while the latter, creative interpretation involves the new
formation of conceptual combinations in reflection. At the end of the
chapter, the relation between the proposed approach to conceptualization
and Kant's understanding of aesthetic reflection is reconsidered.

In the epilogue I return to the issue of poetic interpretation. Since in
the last chapter an understanding of productive imagination is used to
characterize all acts of interpretation, there is only one feature left
of Kant's description of aesthetic judgement that may still pertain to
the interpretation of poetry or art, namely that of objective
disinterestedness, which is taken up by many other authors in the
identification of the starting point for a free imaginative
contemplation of poetic text or art. However, such an attitude is tied
to a conventional understanding of what is art. Hence, the use of free
imagination can be considered as an idealization of what conventionally
is the proper attitude to adopt in a normal context of poetry or art.
Hence, free use of imagination is not the reality of poetic
interpretation, but rather presents a model for how we are supposed to
approach objects that appear in a poetic context.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Report Nr: DS-2003-02
Series Name: ILLC Dissertation (DS) Series
Year: 2003
Subjects: Cognition
Depositing User: Dr Marco Vervoort
Date Deposited: 14 Jun 2022 15:16
Last Modified: 14 Jun 2022 15:16
URI: https://eprints.illc.uva.nl/id/eprint/2037

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