Thinking of Others

Thinking of Others: On the Talent for Metaphor

Ted Cohen
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 104
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  • Book Info
    Thinking of Others
    Book Description:

    InThinking of Others, Ted Cohen argues that the ability to imagine oneself as another person is an indispensable human capacity--as essential to moral awareness as it is to literary appreciation--and that this talent for identification is the same as the talent for metaphor. To be able to see oneself as someone else, whether the someone else is a real person or a fictional character, is to exercise the ability to deal with metaphor and other figurative language. The underlying faculty, Cohen argues, is the same--simply the ability to think of one thing as another when it plainly is not.

    In an engaging style, Cohen explores this idea by examining various occasions for identifying with others, including reading fiction, enjoying sports, making moral arguments, estimating one's future self, and imagining how one appears to others. Using many literary examples, Cohen argues that we can engage with fictional characters just as intensely as we do with real people, and he looks at some of the ways literature itself takes up the question of interpersonal identification and understanding.

    An original meditation on the necessity of imagination to moral and aesthetic life,Thinking of Othersis an important contribution to philosophy and literary theory.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2895-1
    Subjects: Philosophy, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Chapter One The Talent for Metaphor
    (pp. 1-12)

    There is mystery at the heart of metaphor. During the past several years a number of capable authors have done much to clarify the topic, and they have shown that some earlier central theses about the nature of metaphor are untenable.³ What they have shown, in particular, is that the import of a significant metaphor cannot be delivered literally, that is, in general, that a metaphorical statement has no literal statement that is its equivalent.

    It may or may not be prudent to regard the import of a metaphor as ameaning. If it is, then a metaphorical sentence has...

  5. Chapter Two Being a Good Sport
    (pp. 13-18)

    Thinking of one person as another is a bemusing and mysterious enterprise, but if I am right, the ability to do this is a fundamental human capacity without which our moral and aesthetic lives would scarcely be possible. This book is an attempt to gain some preliminary understanding of the dimensions of this topic.

    To see the asymmetry of such identification, and this time with a faint moral overtone not present in the story of Lev and the Czar, consider the kind of admonition frequently addressed to children.

    The question arises what Abner would do (or how Abner would feel)...

  6. Chapter Three From the Bible: Nathan and David
    (pp. 19-28)

    Here is a story that concludes with an explicit metaphor of personal identification.

    With his army away besieging the Ammonite city of Rabbah, King David has remained at home, in his palace. One morning as he is walking on the roof of the palace, David sees a young woman in her bath in a courtyard next door. David learns that she is Bathsheba, wife of Uriah, who is one of his soldiers. Struck by her beauty, David summons Bathsheba to him at the palace and sleeps with her. When she becomes pregnant, David sends a message to his military commander...

  7. Chapter Four Real Feelings, Unreal People
    (pp. 29-52)

    Surely it makes a difference whether the character for whom one has feelings is thought to be real, and yet it is not so clear just what difference it makes. It is tempting to suppose that when a thing is fictional, either we can have no feelings about it, or our feelings are peculiar and are not the feelings we would have if the thing were real. There is some truth in this supposition, but in the main it is misleading.

    In the first place, the mere thought of something is the same whether the thing is real or not,...

  8. Chapter Five More from the Bible: Abraham and God
    (pp. 53-56)

    A more forbidding passage of biblical narration is in the book of Genesis, where Abraham is told by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. You recall that Abraham sets about complying with God’s directive, and he proceeds right to the point at which he would kill Isaac, and at that point God sends an angel to call Abraham off.

    This is a story of great difficulty. To grasp the story—or at least to try, to try to begin grasping it—it seems to me necessary to try to appreciate Abraham, and that means asking what it would be like...

  9. Chapter Six More Lessons from Sports
    (pp. 57-64)

    If there is something to be learned about fellow feeling from considering the lot of the sports fan, there is yet more to learn from sports—two things, at least. One is the question of just how virtuosity is appreciated, and the other is the question of that sense of personal involvement known to the ardent fan. The questions are related.

    Virtuosity might be thought to be the exhibition of something difficult done without apparent effort. If that is so, then the appreciation of virtuosity requires an awareness of the difficulty of the accomplishment, and if the difficult has been...

  10. Chapter Seven Oneself Seen by Others
    (pp. 65-66)

    A vital exercise, perhaps too seldom undertaken, is the effort to appreciate how one may be appreciated by others. Think of someone significant in your life—a friend, your spouse, your lover, a student of yours, or a teacher. Now ask yourself, how do you strike that person?

    This is a marvelously intricate task, very difficult to do because it requires, so to speak, both leaving yourself and bringing yourself along. First you must imagine yourself to be the other person, and then, in your newly-imagined embodiment, you must look back at the real you and discover what you see....

  11. Chapter Eight Oneself as Oneself
    (pp. 67-68)

    There is a special example of metaphorical personal identification, peculiar, perhaps, but common, in which the person one identifies with is oneself. This happens when one tries to gain a sense of oneself at a future time. It is at the center of the hypothetical thinking one engages in when making current decisions that will have future effects.

    Suppose I am asked to be nominated to run for the office of president, say, of the American Society for Aesthetics or of my division of the American Philosophical Association, and I must decide whether to accept the nomination. I begin by...

  12. Chapter Nine Lessons from Art
    (pp. 69-78)

    The phenomenon of mutual human understanding is itself frequently a theme within narrative art. When this happens, the reader, as must be his custom, busily at work discovering the extent to which he can imagine being the various characters in the text, is also presented with something of a meditation upon the extent to which anyone, ever, can achieve this kind of understanding. An excellent example, perhaps the preeminent example, is the work of Joseph Conrad, especially in hisHeart of Darkness. But before turning to that bleak text, I will say something about a very significant work that seems...

  13. Chapter Ten The Possibility of Conversation, Moral and Otherwise
    (pp. 79-84)

    It may happen in moral discourse and also in seemingly less weighty conversation that I find myself frustrated and say of my adversary, “I just don’t understand him.”² The other party has failed to come round to my view. Sometimes ‘I don’t understand him’ is a way of saying that he is the one who has notunderstoodsomething. Perhaps he has not grasped my point, or my reasons; and perhaps he has failed at this because he is inattentive or dense or stupid, or perhaps he simply hasn’t tried. But if he has followed my every step, has understood...

  14. Chapter Eleven Conclusion: In Praise of Metaphor
    (pp. 85-86)

    So there they are, these metaphors of personal identification. They are the entrées to human understanding, to the appreciation of one another. They demand to be grasped. Grasping them is part of one’s commitment to being human, for being human requires knowing what it is to be human, and that requires the intimate recognition of other human beings. This is certainly not a new idea, and it has never been put more clearly than by a man of the theater:

    I regard the theater as a serious business, one that makes or should make man more human, which is to...

  15. Index
    (pp. 87-89)