Monday, January 16, 2006

The Limits of Literal Meaning 

The Limits of Literal Meaning: "In his essay Was ist Wahrheit Hans-Georg Gadamer opposes forcefully the western forgetfulness of language, which for him means that the propositional language of the natural sciences governs our thinking so strongly that we have lost our ability to understand the event character of meaning and the dialogical nature and ultimate openness of truth. (See Gadamer 1986.) Gadamer's own conception of language comes close to Augustine's who makes the distinction between outer and inner word and uses the notion of verbum cordis to characterize the inner word, which is never fully expressible. Augustine's idea of verbum cordis reminds us that we must try to reach beyond the uttered speech if we really want to understand the words of the other. For two reasons Gadamer's and Augustine's thoughts form a fruitful starting point to examine the problems of metaphor. Firstly, Augustine's notion of verbum cordis can be understood as an attempt to shed light on the creative process of transforming thought into language (1). Secondly, the idea of propositional language seems to govern also our understanding of metaphor, preventing us from seeing some essential aspects in it.

Roughly, we can separate two different approaches to the notion of metaphor - the literal one and the non-literal one. By the former I mean all those approaches which take the idea of literal meaning as their starting point, ranging from those which take metaphors only as ornaments of speech substitutable by literal expressions to those which try to reduce metaphorical to literal language, interpreting it in some suitable context."

The vision of the semantic web is not of a global ontoloty, rather it is of a continent of distributed literal meaning ermerging out of a restless ocean of local, contextual meanings.

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