Magazine
Latest Issue

Symbolic language

Steven Pinker has a good stab at explaining metaphor, but his belief that brains work like computers proves a big limitation. We still need poets to understand the imagination

By John Cornwell   October 2007

The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature, by Steven Pinker Allen Lane, £25

Steven Pinker begins a key chapter of his new book, The Stuff of Thought, by unpicking the US declaration of independence to reveal the metaphors beneath the abstractions. The very title, “declaration,” he maintains, appeals to the task of clarifying, making clear, dispelling the murk. The colonies, moreover, are said to be connected by “bands” to England, which it was necessary to “dissolve” in order to effect a “separation.” In the final analysis, according to Pinker, the metaphors allude to a single, unstated…

Register today to continue reading

You’ve hit your limit of three articles in the last 30 days. To get seven more, simply enter your email address below.

You’ll also receive our free e-book Prospect’s Top Thinkers 2020 and our newsletter with the best new writing on politics, economics, literature and the arts.

Prospect may process your personal information for our legitimate business purposes, to provide you with newsletters, subscription offers and other relevant information.

Click here to learn more about these purposes and how we use your data. You will be able to opt-out of further contact on the next page and in all our communications.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to letters@prospect-magazine.co.uk

More From Prospect