Colloquium de l’IJN

Visual metaphor and the ’sentiment of (ir)rationality’

Francesca Ervas (Université de Cagliari)
Informations pratiques
15 mars 2019

ENS, Pavillon Jardin, conference room, 24 rue Lhomond, 75005


Metaphor is a cognitive process through which a (generally more abstract and less known) target conceptual domain is seen in light of a (generally more concrete and better known) source conceptual domain (Lakoff & Johnson 1980; Gibbs 1994; Bowdle & Gentner 2005). Verbal metaphor has been considered a condensed and implicit argument guiding the audience along a path of inferences to a conclusion, which attributes to the target some properties of the source (Macagno & Zavatta, 2014; Oswald & Rihs, 2014; Wagemans, 2016). However, metaphor is also a framing device with an “ignorance-preserving” trait (Arfini et al. 2018): some relevant properties of the source are selected to understand the target, while other properties remain ignored, seriously affecting reasoning (Thibodeau & Borodisky 2011, 2013; Semino et al. 2016; Burgers et al. 2016). I argued that, far from being a source of irrationality, verbal metaphor might elicit a creative and productive style of reasoning in argumentation, forcing the audience to find an alternative interpretation of the premises that guarantees a conclusion (Ervas et al. 2015, 2018).
It is less clear the relationship between reasoning and visual metaphor, where metaphor is conveyed (completely or partially) pictorially (Kennedy 1982; Carroll 1994; Forceville 1994, 1996, 2008; Ojha 2015; Pérez Sobrino 2017). Also visual metaphor has been described as a condensed and implicit argument (Tseronis & Forceville 2017), which directs the audience’s attention towards certain visual properties, possibly leading to risky inferences (Knauff & Johnson-Laird 2002; Pollaroli & Rocci 2015). There are three main problems to consider visual metaphor as a condensed and implicit argument: 1) understanding whether there are two conceptual domains; 2) understanding the directionality of the metaphor; 3) understanding the attributed properties. However, visual metaphor might elicit a creative and productive style of reasoning precisely in the process of solving these problems. I propose that a “sentiment of (ir)rationality” (James 1879) or a noetic feeling of (ir)rationality (Dokic 2012) guides reasoning via visual metaphors by tracking a disruption of existing familiar conceptualizations of objects and/or actions and a (partial) recovery of ignored properties.