Do metaphors evolve? The case of the social organism

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    A long line of philosophers and social scientists have defended and extended the curious idea that collective entities – states and societies, cities and corporations – are biological organisms. In this article, I study a few short but spectacular episodes from the history of that metaphor, juxtapose mappings made in one era with correspondences conjured in other epochs, and reflect upon the reasons why they differ. By adopting a historical perspective on the process whereby the notion of a “social organism” evolved from its relatively simple beginnings in ancient philosophy to its rather complex manifestations in the modern social sciences, I hope to show that there are good reasons to reconsider both Lakoff’s decree that metaphors “should not be thought of as processes”, and his declaration that they should instead be seen as consisting of “a fixed pattern of ontological correspondences across domains” (Lakoff, 1993:210, emphasis added). Building on ideas about metaphor that emerged during the nineteenth century, I argue that what may initially appear to be a fixed pattern of projections is often better understood as a temporary station in a fluid process.
    TidsskriftCognitive Semiotics
    Udgave nummer1-2
    Sider (fra-til)312
    Antal sider348
    StatusUdgivet - 2013


    • metaphor
    • intellectual history
    • conceptual evolution
    • historical situatedness
    • social organism

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