"Philosophy in the Flesh"

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson have written a very readable and really good book about an intriguing linguistic concept, Metaphors we live by. Take care, it’s not a work of philosophy, it’s full of holes and bad reasoning, like much of so-called “science”. There are better technical books on Cognitive Linguistics, such as Langacker’s books, Fauconnier’s amazing classic or Talmy’s opus magnum, but they aren’t really that readable, and all of them indulge in the same disregard for, well, thinking. Bah, science. Oh, were was I? Yes, well, many years later, Lakoff and Johnson decided that, after all, not only did they write philosophy, but GOOD philosophy, really, better than ALL the other philosophers, which, from the start, smacked of the typical myopic condescension to philosophy usually practiced by scientists. So they published Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its challenge to western thought in 1999, which is a very pretty book (I like the cover). That is all the nice things that can be said about it. The authors totally disregard the actual writings of the writers they criticise. The only ones who get their due, mostly, are Chomsky and Descartes. With all the others it’s as if they never thoroughly read a book of theirs. I have a specialist (well) for Analytic Philosophy at hand and she was astonished, looking at the bibliography, that, having read these books, the authors could still claim what they did. It’s no use going into details here, they are wrong in most respects. In the parts where I have in-depth knowledge, the idiocy was equally palpable.
The funniest thing was that they call it “A radical change in our understanding of reason” and talk about the ‘fact’ that “human rationality isn’t at all what the Western philosophical tradition has held it to be” and “we are different from what our philosophical tradition has told us we are”. They say that their thesis was ORIGINAL. NEW. Which, frankly, it’s not. These ideas have been around. Hampshire (much as I dislike him), Husserl, Quine, even in the work of writers as old as Kant (I’m told) and Stirner traces of such a sentiment can be found. And we are not even talking about the parts of it that aren’t boring old materialist philosophy.
One should be thankful to Lakoff and Johnson for their work in the 1980s, because they found a precise and good expression for a problem and its answers (here is an explanation but I just saw that it’s now, miraculously, also called “embodied philosophy”. Don’t let that confuse you, it’s not philosophy) that have been around for a while now, but this…is just…embarrassing. I know I have recommended their books to some of you, and after reading vast parts of this one, I felt acutely embarrassed to have done so. Stay away from this one. And don’t think that they are philosophers. They are not. They are linguists, with all the positive and negative things that follow from that description. I still recommend Lakoff’s Women Fire and Dangerous Things.

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