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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton December 3, 2016

The Impasse of Metaphorical Essentialism

Yicun Jiang
From the journal Chinese Semiotic Studies


This paper anatomizes the cognitive theory of metaphor from the perspective of Peircean semiotics. As is defined by Peirce, iconic reasoning is the underlying logic of metaphor, which is open ended and heterogeneous, and therefore no particular metaphorical schema can be said to claim a monopoly over the structuring of our thinking and behavior. Lakoff and Johnson’s cognitive theory, however, seems to follow the Platonic line of ontological realism, which advocates that concepts expressed in a language correspond to real states of things or affairs that exist independently of language. By viewing their “master tropes” as fundamental and prerequisite schemas, Lakoff and Johnson presume the ontological existence of some metaphorical concepts. Such an a priori assumption is not compatible with the polysemous nature of the sign. Consequently, this essentialist approach makes their postulation on metaphor unfalsifiable. What is missing from their framework is a structural space for dynamic interpretation on the part of metaphor users. Peirce’s theory of unlimited semiosis can remedy this deficiency through introducing the concept of “interpretant” as a mediating thirdness, where innumerable semantic features of objects or life situations are rhizomatically linked on the basis of encyclopedic knowledge shared by members of a particular culture.


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Published Online: 2016-12-3
Published in Print: 2016-11-1

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