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Ignes fatui or apt similitudes ?- the apparent denunciation of metaphor by Thomas Hobbes1

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Thomas Hobbes's condemnation of metaphor as one of the chief "abuses of speech" in Leviathan occupies a famous (to some critics, infamous) place in the history of thinking about metaphor. From the viewpoint of cognitive metaphor theory, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (1980,1981) have depicted Hobbes and John Locke as the founding fathers of a tradition in which "metaphor and other figurative devices [became] objects of scorn". Similar verdicts on Hobbes and on Locke as arch-detractors of metaphor can be found in many other accounts of the history of semantics. However, these indictments stand in marked contrast to a considerable number of scholarly publications that have shown that Hobbes's assessment of rhetoric and metaphor is far from a 'straightforward' denunciation of anything non-'literal'. In this paper I shall use results of this research in an analysis of key-passages from Leviathan to re-assess Hobbes's views on metaphor. I shall demonstrate that some critics of Hobbes have overlooked crucial differentiations (in particular, of different kinds of metaphor and similitude) in his concept of metaphor as a key-issue of public communication. Furthermore, I shall argue that Hobbes's foregrounding of the 'dangers' of metaphor use in political theory and practice should be interpreted as an acknowledgement rather than as a denial of its conceptual and cognitive force.

Affiliations: 1: UNIVERSITY OF DURHAM

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