A Non-Cognitivist Account of Metaphor

Student thesis: Phd


This dissertation offers a somewhat hedged defence of non-cognitivism about metaphor, which denies the existence of any metaphorical meanings. Non-cognitivism, the theoretical approach of this dissertation, opposes the dominant philosophical tradition of cognitivism. According to cognitivism, metaphorical expressions enable the users of metaphor to ascribe metaphorical meanings to metaphors through various cognitivist accounts. To be sure, when there is a metaphorical expression, it could carry a metaphorical meaning. The problem is whether it is necessary to consider the function of the literal meaning of the metaphorical expression if language users are to grasp the metaphorical meaning. Here, the literal meanings at issue involve several aspects of metaphorical expressions: literal meanings can be used to infer metaphorical meanings; literal meanings can convey metaphorical meanings directly; literal meanings can be used as tools to create a fictional truth, and so forth. Given this understanding of literal meanings, various approaches to the interpretation of metaphors serve to determine their metaphorical meaning, regardless of semantic approaches or pragmatic approaches. By non-cognitivism for metaphor, I mean the ability to comprehend what a metaphor means through what it says; that is, metaphors cause people to see connections and even grasp new thoughts, but they do not do so by showing those thoughts or connections by propositional content. A metaphor’s only meaning is its literal meaning. The interpretation of metaphors, in this approach, does not consist of metaphorical contents being communicated by either semantic encoding or pragmatic communication. Rather, metaphors operate in an entirely non-linguistic way that does not require the postulation of such meanings. In this dissertation, I will investigate the detailed critical research of current semantic and pragmatic approaches to metaphor to argue the possibility of applying non-cognitivism to metaphors by responding to some problems that cognitivism cannot address. In addition, I will propose a non-cognitivist version of the Indispensability Thesis by considering the imprecision of metaphor and will consider metaphor under propositional attributed belief report cases from a non-cognitivist aspect.
Date of Award1 Aug 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorMichael Scott (Supervisor) & Graham Stevens (Supervisor)


  • Non-Cognitivism
  • Metaphor
  • Philosophy of language
  • Cognitivism

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