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Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought [Paperback]

George Lakoff , Mark Johnson
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
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Book Description

17 Sep 1999
What are human beings like? How is knowledge possible? What is truth? Where do moral values come from? Questions like these have stood at the center of Western philosophy for centuries. In addressing them, philosophers have made certain fundamental assumptions--that we can know our own minds by introspection, that most of our thinking about the world is literal, and that reason is disembodied and universal--that are now called into question by well-established results of cognitive science. It has been shown empirically that:Most thought is unconscious. We have no direct conscious access to the mechanisms of thought and language. Our ideas go by too quickly and at too deep a level for us to observe them in any simple way.Abstract concepts are mostly metaphorical. Much of the subject matter of philosopy, such as the nature of time, morality, causation, the mind, and the self, relies heavily on basic metaphors derived from bodily experience. What is literal in our reasoning about such concepts is minimal and conceptually impoverished. All the richness comes from metaphor. For instance, we have two mutually incompatible metaphors for time, both of which represent it as movement through space: in one it is a flow past us and in the other a spatial dimension we move along.Mind is embodied. Thought requires a body--not in the trivial sense that you need a physical brain to think with, but in the profound sense that the very structure of our thoughts comes from the nature of the body. Nearly all of our unconscious metaphors are based on common bodily experiences.Most of the central themes of the Western philosophical tradition are called into question by these findings. The Cartesian person, with a mind wholly separate from the body, does not exist. The Kantian person, capable of moral action according to the dictates of a universal reason, does not exist. The phenomenological person, capable of knowing his or her mind entirely through introspection alone, does not exist. The utilitarian person, the Chomskian person, the poststructuralist person, the computational person, and the person defined by analytic philosopy all do not exist.Then what does?Lakoff and Johnson show that a philosopy responsible to the science of mind offers radically new and detailed understandings of what a person is. After first describing the philosophical stance that must follow from taking cognitive science seriously, they re-examine the basic concepts of the mind, time, causation, morality, and the self: then they rethink a host of philosophical traditions, from the classical Greeks through Kantian morality through modern analytic philosopy. They reveal the metaphorical structure underlying each mode of thought and show how the metaphysics of each theory flows from its metaphors. Finally, they take on two major issues of twentieth-century philosopy: how we conceive rationality, and how we conceive language.Philosopy in the Flesh reveals a radically new understanding of what it means to be human and calls for a thorough rethinking of the Western philosophical tradition. This is philosopy as it has never been seen before.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; New edition edition (17 Sep 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465056741
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465056743
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 18.8 x 4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 66,918 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Amazon Review

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson take on the daunting task of rebuilding Western philosophy in alignment with three fundamental lessons from cognitive science: the mind is inherently embodied; thought is mostly unconscious; and abstract concepts are largely metaphorical. Why so daunting? "Cognitive science--the empirical study of the mind--calls upon us to create a new, empirically responsible philosophy, a philosophy consistent with empirical discoveries about the nature of mind", they write. "A serious appreciation of cognitive science requires us to rethink philosophy from the beginning, in a way that would put it more in touch with the reality of how we think". In other words, no Platonic forms, no Cartesian mind-body duality, no Kantian pure logic. Even Noam Chomsky's generative linguistics is revealed under scrutiny to have substantial problems.

Parts of Philosophy in the Flesh retrace the ground covered in the authors' earlier Metaphors We Live By, which revealed how we deal with abstract concepts through metaphor. (The previous sentence, for example, relies on the metaphors "Knowledge is a place" and "Knowing is seeing" to make its point.) Here they reveal the metaphorical underpinnings of basic philosophical concepts like time, causality--even morality--demonstrating how these metaphors are rooted in our embodied experiences. They re-propose philosophy as an attempt to perfect such conceptual metaphors so that we can understand how our thought processes shape our experience; they even make a tentative effort toward rescuing spirituality from the heavy blows dealt by the disproving of the disembodied mind or "soul" by re-imagining "transcendence" as "imaginative empathetic projection". Their source list is helpfully arranged by subject matter, making it easier to follow up on their citations. If you enjoyed the mental workout from Steven Pinker's How the Mind Works, Lakoff and Johnson will, to pursue the "Learning is exercise" metaphor, take you to the next level of training. --Ron Hogan

From the Publisher

Two Leading Thinkers Offer Blueprint for a New Philosophy
PHILOSOPHY IN THE FLESH: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson is a pathbreaking volume that radically challenges the tenets of Western philosophy. Grounded in the empirical research of cognitive science, PHILOSOPHY IN THE FLESH refutes the long-held view that reason is independent of the body, directly accessible to conscious reflection, and uniquely human.

According to Lakoff and Johnson, the Cartesian person, with a mind wholly separate from the body, does not exist. The Kantian person, capable of moral action according to the dictates of a universal reason, does not exist. The phenomenological person, capable of knowing his or her mind entirely through introspection alone, does not exist. The utilitarian person, the Chomskian person, the poststructuralist person, the computational person, and the person defined by analytic philosophy all do not exist.

Based on recent findings of cognitive science that have shattered long-held assumptions about man’s ability to reason and contemplate, PHILOSOPHY IN THE FLESH clarifies three major discoveries that reveal a radically new and detailed understanding of what a person is: the workings of the mind cannot be separated from the anatomy and physiology of the brain; thought is mostly unconscious; abstract concepts are largely metaphorical.

After first describing the philosophical stance that must follow from taking cognitive science seriously, Lakoff and Johnson re-examine the basic concepts of the mind, time, causation, morality, and the self; then they rethink a host of philosophical traditions. Finally, they take on two major issues of twentieth-century philosophy: how we conceive rationality and how we conceive language. Nothing short of revolutionary, this instant classic will become a seminal treatise on philosophy for the new millenium.


"Lakoff and Johnson's slim Metaphors We Live By had extraordinary influence in emphasizing the role of the body in thought, language, and knowledge, a subject now at the center of neuroscience, cognitive science, linguistics, and philosophy. Twenty years after, reunited, Lakoff and Johnson take up where they left off. The result is a herculean volume whose bracing ambition is to explain the nature of human knowledge and the bases of philosophical inquiry. This book will be an instant academic bestseller." --Mark Turner, author of The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language

"Lakoff and Johnson’s new book is a bold and subversive incursion of cognitive science and metaphor theory into the trenches of philosophy, with fascinating consequences for scientific and intellectual inquiry in general." --Gilles Fauconnier, University of California San Diego

About the Authors:

GEORGE LAKOFF is Professor Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, and the co-author, with Mark Johnson, of Metaphors We Live By. He was one of the founders of the generative semantics movement in linguistics in the 1960s, a founder of the field of cognitive linguistics in the 1970s, and one of the developers of the neural theory of language in the 1980s and ‘90s. His other books include Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things, and Moral Politics.

MARK JOHNSON is Professor and Head of the Philosophy Department at the University of Oregon. Besides Metaphors We Live By with George Lakoff, he is author of The Body in the Mind and Moral Imagination, and is editor of the anthology Philosophical Perspectives on Metaphor. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth reading, a refreshing vision 26 Mar 2000
By A Customer
The mind is inherently embodied. Thought is mostly unconscious. Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical.
So begins Philosophy In The Flesh. The authors then analyze Western philosophical traditions from the perspective of these finding in cognitive science. The book is a journey through Western philosophy. While reading this, one feels that one is taking a favorite journey anew from a new perspective.
This layman found the book to be a coherent and fascinating explanation of the nature of reason. The book explains how basic-level concepts; conceptual frames, spatial relations and metaphor are used to construct complex concepts. The book also gives a plausible explanation for why much of thought is universal and yet much is relative between cultures, languages and individuals.
The authors then criticize rational actor models such as those that form the basis of the Western economic, legal, and international relations systems. Their premise is that the western belief that there can be an autonomous rational self is mistaken and this belief leads to mistakes that adversely affect the environment, cultures and individuals when the rational actor models are applied to real systems.
The authors close with a vision of what an embodied philosophy is. They believe that human beings have an embodied metaphoric reason, a limited freedom to adjust conceptual tools, and a morality that based on human embodied experience. The authors believe that it is human nature to change and evolve.
The authors fall onto thin ice in the final section of the book. Their view of evolution as a nurturing system and not a competitive one is not one likely to be shared by most biologists.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent but neglected Wittgenstein 15 Feb 1999
By A Customer
I've read, or read in, all the authors previous works with enthusiasm. This fulfills what was promised in those earlier works. My only disappointment so far (I've skipped around)was the short shrift they gave to the later Wittgenstein. What Lakoff and Johnson have in breadth, I think Wittgenstein will add much depth. As a matter of fact, I plan to use this book to organize ideas about Wittgenstein's later work. I understand why the authors may not have wished to say much about Wittgenstein, as everybody sees a different Wittgenstein: Mind and World by McDowell, Truth and Objectivity by Crispin Wright, etc. I still feel an authentic Wittgenstein can be found, and the Lakoff and Johnson will be a great help in finding him. If anyone is interested in exchanging insights, I am thirsty for conversation. (roparrl@aol.com)
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thinking with the body not just the head 20 Jun 2005
I loved this book! Few philosophers ever seem to deal with the physical side of life. Lakoff and Johnson do, however, and they attempt to show how our cognitive experience is derived from our embodied experience. I tend to think they have done this rather well and it strikes me that the basis to all our concepts is physical experience. The book could have had more on spatial awareness, since if our cognitive structures emerge from our physical being they must be 'implaced' - I had to go to Edward S. Casey to find out more about that. Also, given recent books by Ramachandran, Edelman, Damasio et. al., it would be nice to see a little bit more about the relationship between the body and areas of the brain responsible for the senses and spatial awareness (the parietal and the hippocampus, I believe). Perhaps that will be something they might touch on in future? Read them all! Then, like me, wonder why so many philosophers ignore the flesh they think in.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Man is the Measure 7 Dec 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The work is basically little more than a long-winded discussion on the theme: 'man is the measure of all things'.

Now that is a very old adage yet Lakoff and Johnson seem intent on persuading us that they, or rather that cognitive science, has come up with something new, something that changes everything.

Grandiose claims aside, the book is well worth a read.

And for the most part the work is written in simple, understandable, concise English.

But then I found myself questioning various assumptions and claims made by the authors on behalf of cognitive science such as the one that 'thought is mostly unconscious'.

Yes, I surmised, 'unconscious thought is surely mostly unconscious', but what about self-conscious thought, what about semi-conscious thought, what about stream of consciousness thought, and so on?

For the term 'thought' means many things.

And then I got to thinking, unabashedly self-consciously, 'here we go again, here we have yet another example of men thinking they have discovered the philosopher's stone, or to use another metaphor, the key that opens all locks.'

The inescapable fact is cognitive science is itself a system of metaphors, a lexical and self-referential jargon, even, dare I say it, a poetic genre.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening 16 Feb 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is everything the Amazon review says it is, and more.

I've read a lot of philosophical texts and have always struggled with their abstractness, their distance from the real world. What has Leibnitz's monad or Searle's status function have to do with real life? Not a lot as far as I can see.

Lakoff and Johnson's book takes the real world and real people's cognitive functioning as the basis for approaching philosophy and metaphor as the primary mechanism of thought. This gives it a solid grounding in reality, and hence its thesis can be ported back into real life to real effect.

A critical point to consider if the blurb for the book interests you - the text is readable!

L & J avoid the jargon saturated style of many philosophers in favor of simple, readable, plain English, and there are copious examples through out that put their theory in a real world context, so you won't find yourself having to map abstract concepts back to reality. If only all philosophical authors could write as clearly!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book is very important... If you intrested in cognitive science, the philosophy of mind and language you should read this book absolutely. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Abdullah ^evki YURTVERMEZ
4.0 out of 5 stars Cognitive Science Meets Philosophy
This hefty volume employs the empirical findings of second generation cognitive science to challenge the Western philosophical belief in a rational disembodied mind. Read more
Published 12 months ago by nicholas hargreaves
2.0 out of 5 stars this is typical of Western thought
"Reason, even in its most abstract form, makes use of rather than transcends our animal nature" This is nicely put, though hardly new to anyone versed in philosophy or social... Read more
Published on 18 Jan 2007 by anotherreader
3.0 out of 5 stars Equally painful and pleasurable
Some of the comments have been unkind on this book, and this is in part correct. The sheer breadth of what they attempt to do - a reconceptualising of philosophy through the body... Read more
Published on 25 July 1999
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but flawed
I'm studying philosophy and find it most refreshing to read a book that revolts against the non-body paradigm in philosophy. Read more
Published on 23 July 1999
3.0 out of 5 stars Lakoff and Johnson gone too far
Unlike the one reader below (from Oregon and other places) who posted repeatedly about the "problem" with this book, i.e. Read more
Published on 22 July 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Book
I read this book twice. I find it great and inspiring. I think this book will help in making philosophy more human and down to 'the flesh'. Read more
Published on 11 July 1999
1.0 out of 5 stars Warmed over reifications of "science" &...
These guys should get a little help from an expert like Noam Chomsky who could set them straight. What a boring, uniformed attempt to "appear"scholarly. Read more
Published on 5 July 1999
4.0 out of 5 stars A clear synopsis of nearly twenty years worth of research.
Having followed the authors' work for over ten years, I was pleased to see Lakoff and Johnson come around once again to tackle the philosophical implications their research... Read more
Published on 19 Jun 1999
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