Semantic Meaning and Content: The Intractability of Metaphor


Davidson argues that metaphorical sentences express no propositional contents other than the explicit literal contents they express. He offers a causal account, on the one hand, as an explanation of the supposed additional content of a metaphor in terms of the effects metaphors have on hearers, and on the other hand, as a reason for the non-propositional nature of the “something more” that a metaphor is alleged to mean. Davidson’s account is meant to restrict the semantic notions of meaning, content, and truth, to literal sentences. I argue that the Davidsonian causal account does not satisfactorily account for metaphor’s figurativeness, speakers’ assertion and hearers’ uptake of metaphor, and our discursive practices of using metaphors in disagreements and argumentation. I offer a non-compositional analysis of a semantic account of metaphor within which one can make sense of the applicability of the notions of meaning and content to metaphor. This analysis shows that metaphorical sentences have meanings other than, and in addition to, their literal meanings and what speakers can use them to mean.

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