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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on 26 March 2000
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. Clearly nurturing parents are an advantage for many animals, but to say that nature as a whole is a nurturing system is wildly romantic. Additionally the authors wish to define a new moral vision that could be shared by all of humanity. Sadly, but not surprisingly, they do not present a coherent system of morality that could replace the rational actor models they criticize.
Despite these weaknesses, this book is well worth reading as it supplies a refreshing vision that defines what it is to be a thinking human being.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 16 February 2011
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 23 May 2014
George Lakoff and Mark Johnson acknowledge that cognitive science has reopened central philosophical questions. Their conclusion is that (1) mind is inherently embodied, (2) thought is mostly unconscious, and (3) abstract concepts are largely metaphorical:

"There exists no Kantian radically autonomous person, with absolute freedom and a transcendent reason that correctly dictates what is and isn't moral. Reason, arising from the body, doesn't transcend the body [...] There is no poststructuralist person--no completely decentered subject for whom all meaning is arbitrary, totally relative, and purely historically contingent, unconstrained by body and brain" (p.5).

I recommend this book to followers of transcendentalism and relativism alike. It is rather dry reading and their analysis not impeccable, but their message is important. Although the authors denote their standpoint as "embodied realism", they nevertheless take the view that our experiences of colour, e.g., must be regarded as subjective. I am not so certain of that. If experience is embodied, and notions of subjective and objective have become relativized, why take the wholly psychological view of colour?

I am surprised at the little impact that the findings of cognitive science and the discovery of the unconscious has had on philosophers generally. I had expected old uncle Kant and uncle Husserl to be relegated to the dustbin of obsolete misconceptions by now. I was especially interested to read how Plato had arrived at his complex metaphysic. It builds on a few metaphorical ideas, especially the notion that Essences are both Ideas and Ideals. The rest, including the hierarchy of Being, is given by induction.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 15 February 1999
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. (
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 April 2013
This hefty volume employs the empirical findings of second generation cognitive science to challenge the Western philosophical belief in a rational disembodied mind. The primary method of critical examination utilizes the theories of "unconscious embodied conceptual metaphor" and its origins in sensorimotor experience, to explain how philosophers (old and new) have arrived at their conclusions using a metaphoric logic they mistakenly thought was literal.
As you'd expect in a book written by career academics interested in maintaining credibility, it can be hard going at times, and it is certainly not a light read .I found the prolific re-reading of passages was necessary as the unfamiliar terms used, and the theories that where being propounded eroded my concentration somewhat. Also critical points and theories are repeated in different forms, again and again, which although convenient, gives the feeling that 50% of the book is recycled from itself and that the authors have employed a physical metaphorical trick of their own, "that large volumes carry more weight".On the whole though, if you have the time it is well worth the effort,, as it brings philosophy and modern thought in general up-to-date within the context of discoveries in neuroscience, and it makes it possible to understand the grounding and limits of conceptual reasoning and the errors that ensue when the old philosophies are taken as literal truths.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 7 February 1999
Tend to the latter. Amazing work, especially valuable as a foil if you are a serious rationalist and/or realist (with small 'r's).
The authors take a fairly reasonable realist stance, and try to retain as much reasonable rationalism as possible and consistent with the book's proposed findings; but they do seriously challenge major aspects of r & r, as these have commonly been understood - although one *sometimes* feels they are clutching at straw men!
The publisher's blurb pretty much describes it accurately. This work could have an impact on all areas of your thought, *everything* might have to be re-jigged to a greater or lesser extent once you decide to take this stuff seriously.
BTW, has anybody thought of analogies between this work and Douglas Hofstadter's recent work? Dennett might be another healthy cross-fertilisation.
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on 7 November 2014
Lakoff and Johnson make a very simple and profound observation, on which they subsequently speculate in this hefty (624 page) volume. The observation is that thinking is embodied. That is to say that: “the peculiar nature of our bodies shapes our very possibilities for conceptualisation and categorisation” (19). They expound greatly on this realisation by pointing to endless instances in which so-called ‘abstract’ thinking is rooted in the physical and the bodily. If we cannot think about things without metaphor, and no thoughts have any existence “independent of bodies and brains” (266) then no thought can be truly abstract or objective, they tell us.

Their understanding of metaphors is that they “project inference patterns” (82). In this sense the peculiar metaphors that are used to guide understanding impose external patterns that determine the very avenues of thought used by people. Lakoff and Johnson go so far as to suggest (with good reason) that “neural mechanisms used in perception and movement … [may] also [be] used in abstract reasoning” (37). Hence the grandiose expectations expressed in this text anticipate that the world of philosophers will capitulate on previous knowledge and bow to their new discoveries.

Some philosophers are selected for particular attack. Descartes is one, who’s ‘ideas as objects in the mind’ thinking we are told is clearly wrong, in the light of recent discoveries made by cognitive science. Ideas are not objects in the mind, we are told. The correspondence theory of truth is rejected. The authors show ways in which ‘faculty psychology’ (that divides the mind into ‘faculties’ or departments rather as a university) is clearly wrong. Instead of these misguided notions for thinking the absolutes we are presented with include basic (universal) categories that are “the source of our most stable knowledge” (29).

Having undermined much of the rest of philosophy, where do Lakoff and Johnson end up standing? They are physicalists (110), so they assume the physical world to be ‘real’, philosophically prior, and independent of the mind (233). They believe in everyday reason, and that everyday reason tells us that "there are purposes in the world" (217).

One has to wonder – are Lakoff and Johnson justified in simply presupposing the above? They themselves credit theology with setting the stage for Western science (349). Should they not acknowledge that they are making ontological assumptions that are rooted in a particular, Christian, ontological history? Are they claiming that everyone in the world simply knows that the physical world is ‘real’ and that it has purposes, when they themselves acknowledge that what ancient Greek scholars put in place on which the West continues to build are in absolute terms an ‘arbitrary’ presuppositional foundation?

Lakoff and Johnson seem to have hobby horses that they are determined to promote regardless of the evidence. One is that the ‘strict father’ metaphor is erroneous; fathers should not be ‘strict’. Second is that Judeo-Christian ‘religions’ are misguided and misleading people and deserve to be abandoned. Third, already mentioned above, is that what they have discovered is a revolution that effectively undermines most of the rest of philosophy.

I greatly appreciate the insights given to us by Lakoff and Johnson. I find their undermining of notions of ‘objectivity’ on the basis that almost all thinking is metaphorical and bodily helpful and challenging. There is a sense in which they do provide a profound challenge which should encourage philosophers to go back to the drawing board. It is sad however, to me, that they confuse personal agendas such as of ‘strict fathers’ with the very legitimate things that they have to say. I do not see why their discoveries should be taken as a threat to conventional Western ontologies and metaphysics rooted in faith in revelation, such as that of the ‘Abrahamic religions’. It seems likely to me that biting off more than they can chew may have reduced the overall impact of the very legitimate discoveries that Johnson and Lakoff explore in this text.

I highly recommend this text to thinking people who would like to probe the foundations of their understanding. I think the same thinking people will find themselves picking and choosing a little between the authoritative claims made by Lakoff and Johnson. Their basic aim, to challenge philosophical foundations that are often presupposed in Western thought using new insights from cognitive science, I find to be admirable.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 20 June 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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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 25 July 1999
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 - means that, even in 500+ pages, there is little doubt they can do the subject justice. They have a damn good go, though.
I found the book alternately easy-going and hard, interesting and repellant. People will bring their own specialisations with them when they read the book and so will become enraged at different points within the book. My personal interest - in physiological vision - was mentioned only really in passing but there was enough there to use on other matters for the book to be considered generally useful. I do resent having to read all through it and having to endure repetition, though. The phrase about '2nd-generation cognitive science', as if it were a panacea, contributes towards the narrow-minded scientism that they were presumably attempting to rid 20th-Century philosophy of in the first place -- especially in their dealings of analytic philosophy.
And their treatment of 'poststructuralist' philosophy is best forgotten, even though Iragary, Grosz and Deleuze could have given them a big helping hand...
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 19 June 1999
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 entails. As expansive as Women..., but explicated in a clear and precise manner, Philosophy in the Flesh presents the bulk of experiments and observations detailing the embodied roles language and imagination play in our lives. That concepts have a basic logic which is neither a representation of mind-independent categories in the world nor a product of individual minds only, they have offered the philosophical community a middle path between Objectivism and Solipsism. Their own work, supported by people such as Antonio Damasio, Mark Turner, and Ronald Langaker, has reached a maturity most philosophers only dream of. Unfortunately, rather than being seriously attacked by mainstream philosophy or cognitive science, they have been largely ignored. Not entirely unlike their colleagues in vision, people such as Evan Thompson and Francisco Varela, they have been marginalized by the very figures they critique. Happily, however, there is a growing core of linguists and philosophers who have grown up wary of the traditional camps, and who have added to the core belief that the function of our perceptual and motor system creates the very particular cognitive system we have in place. If there is a complaint about this book, it is in the challenge that they fail to give to the bulk of philosophical work being done today. Work that would greatly benefit from their insights.
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