On the Understanding of Non-Literal Expressions


What would be, then, the main conclusion to draw from our considerations? First and foremost, it seems that non-literal expressions such as metaphors do possess certain meaning, regardless of our inability to come up with their literal paraphrase. They have meaning by virtue of our feeling of understanding of those expressions. We need to possess it before we can set about articulating its literal paraphrase. If we succeed, we not only possess the feeling of understanding but also what we have called understanding proper. It differs from the feeling of understanding in that it’s intersubjective, among other things, which gives it a methodological advantage over the, merely subjective, feeling of understanding. This advantage in itself is a good reason for providing, where possible, literal paraphrases of metaphorical expressions. However, we face particular difficulties in making good on this requirement when we encounter claims advanced by existential philosophy, which through their ”valuative” visions seek to penetrate hidden dimensions of human condition. I believe that the relevance of such a philosophy for our lives is a redeeming feature which absolves it from its methodological deficiencies.