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Metaphors, similarities and inferences

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I review and update Max Black’s ‘interactive’ view of metaphor. On this view metaphor cannot be reduced to, or analyzed in terms of, similarity. A metaphor does not merely state a similarity; it rather brings into being a similarity that was not there before. The interactive view has cash value in literary theory, where it originates, but its application to science has often been questioned. I defend a version of the interactive view by providing an account of the role that metaphor plays in fostering inferences from representational sources to targets. The account draws on historical scholarship on 19th-century electrodynamics, and I point out some relevant links with Mary Hesse’s celebrated work on models.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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