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Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought Paperback – 17 Sep 1999

3.5 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; New Ed edition (17 Sept. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465056741
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465056743
  • Product Dimensions: 18.8 x 4 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 105,575 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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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Format: Paperback
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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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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Hardcover
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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