Have We Reason to Believe?
It's a heady onslaught of ideas, and Lakoff and Johnson deserve enormous credit for their work, both over the years and in this cagily disguised textbook. For all the repetition and jargon that make the volume a homely "container" for marvelous ideas, they've taken momentous insights associated with Continental thinkers from Fontenelle to Derrida--the most important being that metaphor suffuses all supposedly abstract philosophical language--and explored them in a characteristically American, empirical spirit. They've marshaled heaps of scientific and social-scientific data, and schematized them to a degree that would have fatigued a lightly empirical concept reviser like Foucault and would seem ploddingly dull to a skeptical ironist like Derrida.
Lakoff and Johnson's dissections of what they call our primary metaphors--paradigms like "Affection is Warmth" ("They greeted me warmly") or "Happy is Up" ("I'm feeling up today")--significantly illuminate how we form abstractions by grafting physical phenomena onto subjective experience. Whereas study of metaphor remained a back alley of philosophy for decades, their work, and landmark anthologies such as Andrew Ortony's Metaphor and Thought (1993), mean no respectable philosopher or linguist can now ignore metaphor's upshot for epistemology and metaphysics.
Further, the authors are right in their claim that what insider cliques in analytic philosophy continue to consider prestigious work--piecemeal defining of truth conditions for abstract words as if they bore a literal rather than metaphorical pedigree--is bankrupt stuff. Lakoff and Johnson are the Lewis and Clark of philosophy's Age of Metaphor, not always getting their positions right but endlessly clearing intellectual paths for others.
That said, the repercussions they announce for "reason" and the way they clash with Calne suggest why Philosophy in the Flesh, despite its girth, fails to settle the brute matter of what reason is. It should, for instance, give Lakoff and Johnson pause that while they claim "evidence from cognitive science shows that classical faculty psychology is wrong," Calne finds considering reason a "faculty" perfectly adequate. That's because he, the professional neurologist and amateur historian of ideas, unlike Lakoff and Johnson, the gushy devotees of cognitive science, never forgets that "reason" and its cognates are cultural terms whose delineation can never exceed in precision the official compromises of lexicographers.
Lakoff and Johnson, instead, believe that concepts such as reason "are neural structures" and that conceptual inference is simply "sensorimotor inference." They thus accept materialist identification between words and concepts, on the one hand, and neurological matter, on the other. Far from being radically new, of course, that flirting with mind-body identity is as old as Plato's Phaedo. And, contrary to what they claim, nothing in contemporary cognitive science or philosophy requires us to accept it.
None other than Steven Rose, a leading neuroscientist, reminds us in From Brains to Consciousness?: Essays on the New Sciences of the Mind (1998) that "being able to map mental processes into physiological, anatomical and biochemical mechanisms" may be able to tell us "how the brain/mind works," but it "will not be able to tell us what the mind is doing and why. These questions will have to be answered at a higher level of analysis, and using a different language, than that offered by the best of neuroscientific technology."
It's clear, however, that Lakoff and Johnson see their work as analogous to the human genome project, with metaphorically soaked concepts ultimately to be neuronally coded and pinned. Unless, however, neurologists find name tags in the gray stuff, of the sort Mom sewed into your Camp Kitcheewawa T-shirts ("This sliver of cerebellum holds Bobby Smith's conception of happiness"), the connections will depend on culturally driven associations. The authors should have spent more time with amateur etymologist Raymond Williams, whose entry on "Rational" in Keywords (1976) provides a judicious guide to the zigs and zags of reason and its oddball relatives (particularly "reasonable" and "rationalize").
The authors might also have acknowledged that the straw-man philosophical tradition they persist in depicting as massively Cartesian and hostile to the body has been powerfully altered by pragmatism, Wittgenstein and deconstruction, so that many anti-a priori beliefs Lakoff and Johnson advance might be regarded as articulated by the others, minus the neuronal chemistry. (The authors do offer Dewey and Merleau-Ponty appreciative bows, but ignore their focus on the social construction of concepts.)