on the Landscape Metaphor

And this was, of course, connected with the very nature of the investigation. For this compels us to travel over a wide field of thought criss-cross in every direction.—The philosophical remarks in this book are, as it were, a number of sketches of landscapes which were made in the course of these long and involved journeyings.
— Ludwig Wittgenstein, Preface to the Philosophical Investigations

The landscape is on the short list of foundational ways we humans think about the world (and by extension "things" (another foundational concept). We exists, and take a practical, existential and interest in the landscape | situation | world around us. We have evolved to keep existing in landscape.

The metaphor, that we are taking a journey over a landscape, be it urban or rural, is vivid and pleasant, but like all metaphors, (and philosophy is hugely metaphorical) this gets in the way of thinking.

We are driven, as we drive, in philosophy (as elsewhere), by metaphors. We are led, and misled, comforted and seduced by our metaphors.

One that comes to minds too easily, as metaphors do—unbidden and unexamined—is that a philosophy book takes you on a journey. And I am your tour guide, talking|explaining as we look at a number of things. (It is often unstated that this is always a very small subset of things.)

There is much wonderful and appealing about the journey metaphor:

  • a journey is an experience
  • a journey takes us on places we have never been before, and shows us new things we have not seen
  • and shows us things we did not know existed
  • a journey is an experience to talk about, and at times, to share
  • a journey takes time
  • a journey shows us things that cannot be said in words
  • on a journey we can only be in one place at a time a journey takes our attention
  • we are going together
  • a journey with a guidebook is different, and often more interesting, that a journey without one
  • a journey is an achievement
  • a journey is exciting; it is travail, adventure (though sometimes it is not)
  • a journey is an appealing, and familiar, metaphor
  • and a journey is no doubt also many things we cannot put into words

The journey metaphor is as comforting as a journey is. It works in that we can think of things that happen on a guided journey, and they happen metaphorically here as well.

The metaphor is extensible.

But it is important to see that of course this book is also NOT a journey:

  • We are not going anywhere. Even to a "field" of study. We are not going to a "place".
  • There is no "there" there. There are no simple and correct|incorrect descriptions.
  • You are not leaving your armchair. You are sitting down and your chair is not traveling either.
  • There are none of the accouterments of an actual journey: no transportation, hills, weather, hotels, streets, people, cafés...
  • We are not even looking at anything, except metaphorically. I am not showing you anything, (except metaphorically).
  • I am just presenting you with a number of words. Or better, I am just telling you a number of things.
  • We are not even "we." We don't know who we are.
  • It implicitly ties in with several other fundamental metaphors: we are looking at "things out there," and we are "looking."

For lack of better words, this book is a journey, though it is hardly a journey at all. It is more of a journey than not a journey, though it is not a journey.

I could have said that I am (and have been) constructing something for you: something like a building, an edifice, with many rooms. I am making a place you have not been before that is interesting in ways only an intellectual construct–like a philosophy book–can be interesting.

I could present you with a table of similarities and dissimilarities (like I did with the "journey" metaphor), but at the end it would be equally true I am not building you anything either.

It should be surprising how tenacious such metaphors can be. Perhaps their deep familiarity soothes us as we do whatever we do.

All this shows us some important things about the nature of language.

  1. Language recycles old concepts effortlessly, even as it extends their meanings into new activities.
  2. The language user is only dimly aware of this. Language is seductive.
  3. Each metaphorical extension of language has multiple meanings, most of which are subconscious. The application of the metaphor is not dependent on being able to list the ways in which they work.
  4. We speak, as we understand, for a large and largely unknown number of reasons. We do not speak randomly.
  5. Even after everything has been pointed out to you, you are still drawn to the metaphor.

We need to explore that fact that a word almost always begins in a metaphor, and the metaphor may remain apparent, the word become something different. Often (in English) it takes an etymological dictionary to discover the metaphors behind most of the familiar words in our language.

It is not like we first see the similarities and dissimilarities between an actual journey and a philosophical journey and then we consciously choose the word "journey" as the best fit. We simply use the word. And we feel that it is good.

The word is used and it shows itself to be useful, in ways unimagined.

But for lack of a better metaphor, I will be taking us on a journey. It is a metaphor, but it is my metaphor.

As your guide on this journey, I may worry too much about exactly what and when I will shows you. As in an actual journey, this is not supremely important.

I expect to lose my bearing every now and then.

And my thoughts will pull me off into unknown thickets of thought. At those times I will have to retreat.

After having all this pointed out to me, why am I still drawn to the same metaphors? Well, this is how we talk.

Is there a better metaphor? Some metaphors work; some don't. Some work by not working. (Though "work" is a metaphor as well.) Can we say we are:

  • Having some food?
  • Opening a present?
  • Experiencing an orgasm?
  • Putting on new clothes?
  • Petting the dog?
  • Going fishing?

We cannot even|ever experience this in an nonmetaphorical manner, because we cannot comprehend the vastness with our finite minds,

Another common metaphor is that I am talking/lecturing to you. But this reduces a complexity to a triviality, or equates it with something else we hardly understand.

After we finish talking about going somewhere, we are going somewhere.

Having said all this, I will use the Landscape Metaphor, in that it is a constitutive metaphor of the human experience.

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