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Metaphors in scientific practice: how they function, how they sometimes get entrenched, and how to evaluate them

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In the history of philosophy, metaphors were long thought to be delusive and dangerous, mere rhetorical or linguistic devices that did not have any cognitive importance. In the last few decades, the philosophy of science literature has opposed this view and has emphasized metaphors’ creativity and heuristic power. However, it has failed to present a critical account of how metaphor’s cognitive dimension can also limit our view onto the phenomena we are trying to understand, quite apart from being very productive inferentially. An account of how metaphors can become so entrenched in thought that they become constitutive for how we perceive the world should allow for critical discussion of both productive and counterproductive features of metaphor usage in scientific discourse. Moreover, if metaphors can indeed be highly consequential for scientific perception and cognition, such an account should address the question of how and when (if at all) to evaluate metaphors. These issues will be under discussion with the help of a specific example from financial economics: ‘financial ecosystems’ as a means of conceptualizing the systemic nature of financial risk and stability.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Humanities and Social Sciences Group series.

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