Argumenta – Journal of Analytic Philosophy

This paper offers both exegetical and systematic reconsiderations of Donald Davidson’s view on metaphor. In his essay What Metaphors Mean, Davidson argued against the idea that metaphors have any kind of propositional content beyond the literal meaning of the relevant sentence. Apart from this negative claim, Davidson also made a constructive proposal by suggesting that metaphor’s distinctive effect is to prompt a mental state of seeing-as. These two points seem connected insofar as Davidson makes the following assumptions. First, metaphors cause their distinctive effects in an a-rational way. Second, seeing-as is a nonpropositional mental state. If we side with Davidson in thinking of meaning as rational and propositional, then it follows that metaphors’ distinctive effects cannot be an instance of meaning. They have the wrong format and are brought about in the wrong way. Against this background, I distinguish a strong reading and a modest reading of Davidson’s wrong-kind objection to metaphorical meaning. By taking into account some of Davidson’s later pronouncements on the matter, this paper aims to show that Davidson did not hold on to the strong version of the wrong-kind objection. This would open up the way to conceiving of metaphorical meaning in terms of speaker’s meaning, were it not for the fact that Davidson sticks to the wrong-way objection. The two concluding sections examine the cogency of the wrong-way objection as applied to metaphorical speaker’s meaning, and offer a model for thinking about the a-rational mental causation Davidson thought metaphors exhibit.

Significantly, Donald Davidson (1978: 31) starts his seminal article What Metaphors Mean (WMM) with a metaphor: “Metaphor is the dreamwork of language”. More significantly still, he goes on to point out the ways in which he wishes to compare metaphor to Sigmund Freud’s notion of dreamwork. For Davidson, there are two relevant points of comparison. First, the interpretation of both metaphors and dreams “reflects as much on the interpreter as on the originator”.


  Click here to download full article