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September 13, 2003



"the first bit, if it amounts to anything, amounts to saying you won't understand a definition unless you have a mind"

No, it refers to framing effects. And on that theory I believe he's exaggerating (see reviews of Lakoff's Metaphors We Live By). The narrative he builds is just a way to make sense of the frame, if it makes sense at all, but the effects can be real: although, just asserting it doesn't make it the case. It does sound rather strange if you interpret it as a structure that determines thought rather than a bias or effect that we can resist or reject depending on our opinion of the speaker, knowledge about the subject, etc. But I don't know what he's trying to say or not say.


Shai, I actually do know all about frames and prototype theory and all the rest. I've read all of Lakoff's books (I have to fuel the fires of the garrulity of my rage at silly foolishness about language.) Of course, there's no way you could know I'm a morbid Lakoff buff just from reading my post. In fact, I can see now that my post probably makes it sound like I think 'frame' is just some word he thought up off the cuff. I'll just take the occasion to say, then, that the thing that bugs me most about Lakoff is that he is always insisting on 'empirical responsibility', but all his theories - including his frequent adversions of frames, prototypes, etc.; but especially everything he's ever written about conceptual metaphor - are a priori enough to make Plato blush a hot blush of shame. He always waggles around terms like 'frames' with a sort of 'stand back, empirical scientist coming through!' manner. But the claims made by means of these terms are usually wild, pie in the sky metaphysical speculations that could never be confirmed or disconfirmed. At best, they turn out to be pseudo-scientifically fancy ways of saying quite ordinary things like 'you need a mind in order to think'. For example, in the TAP article Lakoff pats frame theory on the back for figuring out that if you understand a proposition you must think about what it is about. But since (the act of) understanding a proposition just IS thinking about what it's about ... well, it's a bit silly to think that P -> P is a recent discovery of cognitive science.

Don't mean to bite your head off, Shai. It was quite reasonable of you to inform me that there is an alleged theoretical background. I just think it's an unscientific shambles, that's all. Thanks for commenting.


I generally agree with you about Lakoff, but I do think you're wrong when you say that framing effects are in "unscientific shambles". Framing effects and priming effects are a well established feature of the heuristics and biases program of social psychology (that doesn't imply that the application isn't often problematic). I do fear that your opinion of frames was influenced by Lakoff's eroneous interpretation ("Lakoff pats frame theory on the back for figuring out that if you understand a proposition you must think about what it is about" sounds nothing like anything related to the idea of frames as it occurs in the psychology literature) but that's easily remedied by checking out some of the journals or picking up an intro text (I read Kunda, Ziva. Social Cognition in my social psych. class but there are probably better texts).




You're right, Shai. I actually didn't mean to quantify over quite so much with my 'it's an unscientific shambles, that's all'. Let the 'all' range only over Lakoff's texts. And a few other folks I could mention but won't. I haven't read Kunda Ziva so it would be most churlish to opine negatively. I clicked on your link. I can perfectly well see how this could be scientifically sound and interesting research. (I do remember bits and pieces of non-Lakoff writings in this area I read years ago that seemed respectable.)

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