Metaphor in continental philosophyWhereas analytic philosophy examines metaphor within the philosophy of language, continental philosophy assigns much wider significance to metaphor. This is because the climate within continental thought has been more favourable to the propagation of new branches of enquiry from nineteenth century German philosophy. Although Kant and Hegel sit quite happily on both analytic and continental curricula, it is only the latter which has seriously addressed the need to rethink how the world appears to us and how it is made manifest to us in the light of their metaphysics. Metaphor has proven to be extremely important for this rethinking because it is the process of conceptual borrowing or reassignment which revises our perception of the world.
The major shift which occurs in Kantian continental philosophy, according to Cazeaux, is the departure 'from dualistic thought, i.e. thinking which remains within the boundaries created by oppositions, such as mind—body and subjective—objective' . The turn away from dualistic thought is made by Kant on account of his representing experience as the subjective determination of an objective world, thereby placing in a relationship terms which normally stand as opposites in a dualism. As a result of this shift, without conventional dualisms to fall back upon, the process of conceptual borrowing and cross-referral presented by metaphor becomes central as the means by which the textures and complexities of experience can be articulated. Theses to this effect, but with significant differences, can be found in Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Bachelard, Paul Ricoeur, and Derrida.
To give two examples. According to Nietzsche, we are in metaphor or we are metaphor: our being is not derived from a Platonic, eternal essence or from a Cartesian thinking substance but (in as much as there is a way of being we can call ours) is emergent from tensional interactions between competing drives or perspectives .
For Ricoeur, metaphor is also ‘living’ – hence the title of his book, La Métaphore vive , with the former providing an account of how the schematism might afford a coherent explanation of metaphor.
Another reason for the attention paid by continental philosophy to metaphor is the questioning of boundaries – between subject areas and between the wider concepts of ethics, epistemology and aesthetics – which has occurred within postmodernism. Principal concerns in these debates are the status of knowledge and the way in which the concepts of truth and objectivity are understood. Philosophy has been under attack on this score with its history of ‘universal truths’, e.g. Descartes’s cogito, Kant’s table of categories, and Hegel’s Absolute Consciousness. The main arguments against this universalism invoke metaphor on two related accounts: (1) the fact that key epistemological concepts have metaphors at their root, for example, “mirroring”, “correspondence”, “sense data”, is taken as evidence of the contingent, communal, subjective basis of knowledge, and (2) because metaphor (as a form of dislocated or dislocating predication) works by testing the appropriate with the inappropriate, it is seen as a means of challenging the boundaries whereby one subject defines itself in relation to another.