Understanding metaphorical understanding (literally)
Recently, professor Mike Stuart had the privilege to publish a new article in European Journal of Philosophy of Science. Congrats to Mike! To see the full article, please click here.
Metaphors are found all throughout science: in published papers, working hypotheses, policy documents, lecture slides, grant proposals, and press releases. They serve different functions, but perhaps most striking is the way they enable understanding, of a theory, phenomenon, or idea. In this paper, we leverage recent advances on the nature of metaphor and the nature of understanding to explore how they accomplish this feat. We attempt to shift the focus away from the epistemic value of the content of metaphors, to the epistemic value of the metaphor’s consequences. Many famous scientific metaphors are epistemically good, not primarily because of what they say about the world, but because of how they cause us to think. Specifically, metaphors increase understanding either by improving our sets of representations (by making them more minimal or more accurate), or by making it easier for us to encode and process data about complex subjects by changing how we are disposed to conceptualize those subjects. This view hints towards new positions concerning testimonial understanding, factivity, abilities, discovery via metaphor, and the relation between metaphors and models.