Discussion of Two Books: Philosophy in the Flesh
& Claims of Culture
In this paper, Philosophy in the Flesh
(Lakoff & Johnson, 1999) and Claims of Culture (Benhabib, 2002) are reviewed and discussed. Both books offer
significant insights into the human experience. Philosophy of the Flesh (1999) focuses on a hypothesis in cognitive
science conceived by Lakoff and Johnson, known as conceptual metaphor theory. This theory challenges many of the established
principles in Western philosophy. The authors also discuss two dialogues by Plato - Euthyphro and the Republic
- in which they agree with the metaphorical value of Plato's Idea of the Good, The Degrees of Being, and the Allegory of the
Cave. The authors do not accept the notion of transcendence or a disembodied soul. In Claims of Culture (2002), Benhabib
also discusses the value of Plato's dialogues and the universal wisdom passed down throughout the ages. She finds that there
are common human understandings among cultures that are constantly defining and re-defining themselves. Benhabib explores
the meaning of a culture's historical identity and wants to preserve the past. She expresses a cosmopolitan worldview, but
appreciates the individuality of each culture. Democracy is viewed as the vehicle for achieving a balanced form of multiculturalism.
The ideals of democracy are powerful stimuli for the spread of multiculturalism. These two books offer different views on
the nature of abstract thinking. Philosophy of the Flesh contends that abstractions find expression through metaphor.
Claims of Culture examines a future vision based in abstract thinking in close alignment with current trends in democratic
multicultural expansion. Benhabib assumes a position of universalism in a democratic society and defines the difference between
a democratic theorist and a multicultural theorist.
Tthe first part of this paper discusses a theme that links to a possible dissertation
topic on Plato and the immortal nature of the soul. Interestingly, Philosophy in the Flash (1999) disputes this notion
and the authors claim that from the cognitive scientific standpoint, a disembodied soul is not a valid proposition. The authors
claim that such abstract thinking relates to conceptual metaphor and the workings of the brain. Lakoff and Johnson believe
that the physical body is centerpiece of human existence, and if there is a soul - it lives and dies with the body. Consequently,
the soul cannot transcend the body or be free from it, and the out-of-body experience and the principle of reincarnation become
obsolete. Lakoff and Johnson claim that these abstract concepts are conceptual metaphors that emanate (within the brain) from
a "source domain" to a "target domain". Subsequently, these impulses find expression through words that
articulate the nature of the abstraction. These words are always metaphorical according to the authors. However, Plato is
not using metaphor in his dialogue Phaedo. Instead, Plato offers a logical explanation for the immortal nature of
the soul that includes disembodiment and transcendence.
Claims of Culture (2002), Benhabib refers to Plato and authors of Kabbalistic and Islamic mystical texts. She explains
that such knowledge is an aspect of cultural identities, and the preservation of these books is essential for apprising future
generations of this perennial philosophy. Benhabib is mostly concerned with multicultural issues within a democracy; however,
she understands the value of cultural contributions in religion, theology, and philosophy.
The second part of this paper discusses the central claims of Philosophy in the Flesh (1999)
and Claims of Culture (2002). This section examines the major themes in each book without any further discussion
of the dissertation topic. Although both books speak of religious themes, the two approaches are radically different. Lakoff
and Johnson (1999) are concerned with supporting cognitive theory and processes within the brain, while Benhabib is focusing
on the future of multiculturalism and maintaining cultural identities with democratic nations.
Philosophy in the Flesh
Philosophy in the Flesh (Lakoff & Johnson, 1999) focuses on what it means to be a human being. The authors
offer new ways of thinking about moral values that have been the cornerstone of Western philosophy for centuries. They make
the point that introspection is an essential aspect of interpreting objective reality, and people tend to view the world through
conceptual metaphors. Additionally, the authors are working in the field of cognitive science, which moves beyond literal
interpretations and into a science of the mind. The concepts of time, causation, morality, and the self are re-examined, and
a new philosophical theory challenges the tenets of well-known philosophers such as Kant, Descartes, Chomsky, and others.
Philosophy in the
Flesh (Lakoff & Johnson, 1999) begins with the following set of philosophical concepts,
The mind is inherently embodied.
is mostly unconscious.
Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical.
These are the three major findings of cognitive science. (1999, p. 3)
The authors assert that cognitive science, or the empirical study of the mind, is creating
a new philosophy that is congruent with new discoveries about how the mind works. Additionally, their theories purport to
eliminate the notion of a soul that exists separately from the body. Instead, they are claiming that a reshaped mind-body
relationship has become necessary in the modern world. The authors are very specific about their beliefs on the consciousness-mind-body
relationship. They are steadfast in their assumptions that consciousness cannot exist separately from the body:
Your body is not, and could not be, a mere vessel for a disembodied mind. The concept
of a mind separate from the body is a metaphorical concept. It can be a consequence, as it was for Descartes, of the Knowing
is Seeing metaphor, which in turn arises from the embodied experience since birth of gaining knowledge through vision. The
concept of a disembodied mind is also a natural concomitant of the metaphorical distinction between Subject and Self. (Lakoff
& Johnson, 1999, pp. 561-562)
The authors continue
with this line of reasoning by suggesting that the concept of a disembodied mind originates from the individual's embodied
experiences. Therefore, the embodiment of the individual's experiences can create the illusion of a separate self with an
independent existence. The authors build on these assumptions and contend that the individual has a "metaphor system"
which allows the mind to create the belief that it can exist separately from the body (1999, p. 563). Accordingly, cognitive
science shows that a disembodied mind is not within the realm of possibility. Thus, the existence of an eternal soul, or the
concept consciousness surviving death, does not fit into the realm of cognitive science.
Lakoff and Johnson suggest that the spiritual soul is shaped by the body and is part of the body (1999,
p. 563). They contend that as long as the soul is dependent on the body for its continuing existence, the soul cannot be separate
from the body. Consequently, the authors refute the notion that a soul that can have an out-of-body experience or a mystical
experience. Furthermore, they explain that the mystical experience creates a universal metaphor, in which, a personality and
a soul are independent of each other:
The universal embodied experiences
that give rise to the metaphors of Subject and Self produce in our cognitive unconscious a concept of a Subject as an independent
entity in no way dependent for its existence on the body. Because of those universal embodied experiences, this idea has arisen
in many places spontaneously around the world. And yet, as commonplace and "natural" as this concept is, no such
disembodied mind can exist. Whether you call it mind or Soul, anything that both thinks and is free floating is a myth. It
cannot exist. Requiring the mind and Soul to be embodied is no small matter. It contradicts those parts of religious traditions
around the world based on reincarnation and the transmigration of souls, as well as those who believed that the Soul can leave
the body in sleep or in trance. (Lakoff & Johnson, 1999, p. 563)
a continuation of this thesis, the authors suggest that the spiritual nature of the human being is a product of the mind and
the brain (Lakoff & Johnson, 1999, p. 564). Accordingly, the spiritual aspect of the human experience is imaginary and
reduced to a metaphor in cognitive science. Additionally, by applying the scientific method to spirituality, the concept of
transcendence becomes a fiction. Without transcendence, the Jewish and Christian notions of resurrection (Daniel
and Revelation) become obsolete, and the Hindu, Zen, Shinto, Taoist, and Tibetan Buddhist beliefs of samsara
(many lifetimes) become impossibilities. To support their position, the authors use the terms "imaginative projection"
and "empathetic projection" to replace the religious notion of transcendence (1999, pp. 565-566). They contend that
imaginative projection is a cognitive ability to imitate others, and empathetic projection is the cognitive ability to "know
our environment, understand how we are part of it, and how it is part of us" (1999, p. 566). Therefore, the mind within
the brain has an imaginative ability to project itself onto outer circumstances and can project itself onto nature with which
it has a natural empathy.
Lakoff and Johnson posit that there are
scientific reasons as to why the soul is embodied, and transcendence is not possible. However, they do not state any of these
scientific reasons in their book. Instead, they justify their claims by arguing that these concepts can only be metaphors,
which emanate from "our cognitive unconscious" (1999, p. 563). Interestingly, Lakoff and Johnson (1999)
devote a chapter of Philosophy in the Flesh to various dialogues of Plato. They refer to Euthyphro and the
Republic to support their claims on conceptual metaphor theory, however, it is interesting to note that Phaedo
and Timeaus are conspicuously absent from the discussion. These two other dialogues by Plato employ the same type
of logic as Eurthypro and the Republic, but they do not fit into the new paradigm of abstract thought automatically
becoming a conceptual metaphor. Just as Euthyphro and the Republic work to support the authors' theories
regarding "the theory of essences as metaphor", Phaedo and Timeaus are supporting the logical
legitimacy of transcendence and the disembodiment of the soul. The following dialogue from Phaedo demonstrates this
Platonic logic, which is arguing in favor of transcendence and the disembodiment of the soul:
Socrates: Now you tell me in the same way about life and death. Do you not admit that death is the
opposite of life?
Cebes: I do.
Socrates: And that they come from each other?
Socrates: Then what comes from the living?
Cebes: The dead.
And what comes from the dead?
Cebes: I must admit that it is the
Socrates: So it is from the dead Cebes, that living things
and people come?
Socrates: Then our souls do exist in the next world?
Cebes: So it seems.
Socrates: So we agree upon this too
- that the living have come from the dead no less than the dead from the living. But I think we decided that if this was so,
it was sufficient proof that the souls of the dead must exist in some place from which they are reborn.
Plato does not appear to be speaking in conceptual metaphors as defined by Lakoff and
Johnson. Plato is offering a logical explanation on the workings of the soul based on patterns of nature. In juxtaposition
to Lakoff and Johnson's (1999) definition of conceptual metaphor, Plato is not presenting abstract thought in this dialogue,
nor does it appear as though his logic is emanating from his unconscious mind. Additionally, Plato is arguing against Lakoff
and Johnson's third criteria for conceptual metaphor theory, which is the notion that the mind is embodied. Therefore, much
is at stake for Lakoff and Johnson if Plato's dialogue is presenting convincing evidence for contradicting the three main
criteria that form the definition of conceptual metaphor theory. Furthermore, Plato is not referring to the brain, mind or
any other physical part of the body as an essential part of life. From a humanistic standpoint, he is not relying on the dualistic
notion that the body is the most important aspect of the human being. Thus, Plato's use of logic in Phaedo poses
a challenge to the scientific reasoning of Lakoff and Johnson and their claims that transcendence and disembodiment of the
soul are not possible.
In response to Lakoff and Johnson's claim
that the mind is embodied, it is not difficult to find contrary opinions from other scholars. Finding support for this ubiquitous
claim comes from well-respected sources supporting the notion of a disembodied mind and separation of consciousness from the
body. Such scholars are claiming that there is empirical evidence to support their positions, but as with Lakoff and Johnson,
there are no scientific studies ever mentioned to validate this proposed principle. As an example of this type of claim, there
is an opinion offered on the validity of the disembodied mind by Dr. Neal Grossman (Carter, 2010), professor of philosophy
at the University of Illinois for over forty years:
the belief that consciousness is produced by or is the same thing as the physical brain - is one of those beliefs that have
already been proved false by science. However, although science has in fact already established that consciousness can exist
independent of the brain and that materialism is therefore empirically false, it will take another generation before these
facts are recognized by mainstream academia. Old paradigms never go gently into the night; they go kicking and screaming.
And the defenders of materialism today are indeed kicking and screaming ever more loudly, perhaps because of a total lack
of evidential support for their respective ideology...Thus, it is only because the materialist is deeply ignorant of the empirical
data that have decisively refuted his or her cherished beliefs that he or she is able to sustain belief in what is false.
The situation for the materialist is logically the same as that of the creationist. Both materialist and creationist must
ignore, debunk, and ridicule the scientific findings that have refuted their beliefs. (p. x)
These comments by Grossman sound most authoritative; however, he offers the no specific
empirical evidence for supporting a disembodied mind. Similarly, Lakoff and Johnson do not offer specifics either. Therefore,
both sides of the discourse offer no empirical or scientific proof to support their arguments. In summary, Lakoff and Johnson
(1999) are arguing against the validity of separation of consciousness from the body. In doing so, they are rejecting the
spiritual teachings of Kabbalah, Gnosticism, Sufism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and other mystical teachings connected to world religions.
By doing so, they are drawing a line of demarcation between cognitive science and universal spiritual beliefs. Although the
authors admit that there is a universal recognition of these beliefs throughout the word, they contend that such beliefs are
a universal illusion, which are converted to conceptual metaphors within the brain.
Per this discussion, another viewpoint enters the discussion on universalism and multiculturalism. The author is
Seyla Benhabib (2002) and her book is Claims of Culture.
Claims of Culture
takes a cultural position of universalism in politics, the nature of democracy, feminism, and multiculturalism. While she
is not an advocate of the homogenization of cultures, she acknowledges that cultures are no longer unitary wholes confined
by national borders. She believes that cultures find meaning in their fluidity of change by constantly defining and redefining
themselves. Although she is primarily concerned with cultural politics, ethics and the nature of democracy, she also comments
on multicultural spiritual beliefs and the dialogues of Plato:
an episode in the rise of the Renaissance culture: After the division of the Roman Empire in A.D. 395 and the fall of its
western part in A.D. 476, Greek philosophy, in particular the thought of Plato and Aristotle was forgotten in the West. It
is well known that Arab and Jewish philosophers in the Middle Ages, Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Moshe ber Maimon
(Momonides), and Ibn Gabriol (Avicebron) kept the classic tradition alive. In the thirteenth century in Anatolia the poet
Yunas Emre developed a form of Neoplatonism that anticipated not only elements of Renaissance humanism but also pantheistic
philosophies of the nineteenth century. Emre advocated the view that the human person is at the center of the divine chain
of being, of ascending complexity, beauty, and perfection; we reach the height of our spiritual capacities insofar as we partake
through our minds of the divine order of these forms. Emre, one of the freat mystical poets of Islam, blended Plato's teaching
of the forms with Aristotelian ontology. Galileo's claim, several centuries later that "the book of nature was written
in mathematics" has much in common with Yunus Emre's belief that the universe is an intelligible, ordered hierarchy of
forms. (Benhabib, 1999, pp. 24-25)
Benhabib is describing the preservation
and continuation of mystical knowledge in Kabbalah, Sufism, and Plato's dialogues at a time in history when the Church was
banning such teachings. She speaks about several Jewish and Islamic writers including Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Ibn Rushd (Averroes),
Moshe ben Maimon (Momonides), and Ibn Gabriol (Avicebron), who lived between 900 CE and 1100 CE and had access to newly translated
versions of Plato's dialogues (from Greek to Hebrew and Aramaic). Therefore, some of these writers may have been influenced
by Plato's ideas, which are mentioned in their books on Jewish Kabbalah and Islamic Sufism. She mentions Emre, a Sufi
mystic, who expands on the Platonic metaphysical notion (in Timeaus) of a spiritual hierarchy.
Benhabib posits that interconnections among cultures support her thesis that beneath
the pluralistic multicultural layers of world civilizations there are common human understandings. These understandings include
shared spiritual ideas that have existed since time immemorial. In Claims of Culture (2002), she refers to a universal
belief that the self is not separate from "the other." This concept has various interpretations on the literal,
metaphorical, allegorical, and mystical levels. In terms of mysticism, when the self and "the other" become as one,
there is a connotation of a spiritual oneness that exists between human beings and the Godhead. To support this notion, Benhabib
refers to "the divine order", "the divine chain of being", and the human being, who is at the center of
it all (2002, p. 25).
In Claims of Culture (2002), Benhabib
concludes that all cultures have unique identities; however, commonalities among cultures are increasing as the global community
comes closer together. Although she is primarily a political and feminist theorist, her theories apply to multicultural spiritual
understandings, which include widely held religious beliefs such as transcendence and the disembodiment of the soul.
Discussion of Authors' Theories in Philosophy
in the Flesh
Conceptual metaphor theory as conceived
by Lakoff and Johnson (1999) suggests that abstract ideas are expressed through metaphor. They claim that human beings exist
solely in the physical realm. Therefore, the patterns of human experience in the physical world provide the source data for
abstract thinking. According to Slingerland (2004),
it is claimed, serves as one of our primary tools for reasoning about ourselves and the world - especially about relatively
abstract or unstructured domains. While abstract concepts such as "time" or "death" may have a skeleton
structure that is directly (i.e. non-metaphorically) represented conceptually, in most cases this structure is not rich or
detailed enough to allow us to make useful references. Therefore, when we conceptualize and reason about abstract or relatively
unstructured realms, this skeletal structure is fleshed out (usually automatically and unconsciously) with additional structure
provided by the primary metaphors derived from basic bodily experience, often invoked in combination with other primary schemas
to form complex metaphors or conceptual blends. (2004, p. 11)
metaphor theory has received high praise and much criticism. In terms of praise, it appears that Lakoff and Johnson are credited
with pulling abstract ideas together into a linguistic semblance of order that allows for meaningful communication. However,
there are criticisms regarding their overgeneralizations, speculations, and denouncements of Western philosophy (Sowa, 1999).
Additionally, the authors have received criticism for their attempt to link Plato and Aristotle to "conceptual metaphor
For the classical philosophers, the authors use their
terminology of metaphors and folk theories to make a rather conventional commentary seem novel. Plato, they claim, "had
the metaphor Essences As Ideas, Aristotle has the converse metaphor, Ideas Are Essences." No philosopher who hopes to
be "empirically responsible" should make such statements without much deeper analysis of how those metaphors relate
to the words that Plato and Aristotle actually used. In their discussion of Aristotle's theory of causation, they fail to
distinguish Aristotle's notion of aition and the Latin translation causa from the modern English word cause,
which has undergone profound shifts of meaning in Newton's mechanics, Hume's philosophy, and more recent theories of relativity
and quantum mechanics. They also apply the same term formal logic to Aristotle's syllogisms and to all the modern
logicians despite the widely divergent opinions that the modern logicians have expressed about Aristotle and about each other.
In summary, Lakoff and Johnson are challenging the major
tenets of Western philosophy and the leading voices of Eastern and Western religion, world mysticism, theologians, and world-renowned
Discussion of Author's
Theories in Claims of Culture
of Culture (2002), Benhabib points out that world cultures are no longer contained within quantifiable boundaries. She
analyzes the European Union and notes the transformation is occurring as cultural identities are merging and blending into
a larger multicultural whole. Consequently, cultures have adopted a new flexibility in citizenship, travel, medical care,
legal procedures, and many other pluralistic societal attributes, which are assimilating into the larger democratic framework
(2002, p. 182).
Benhabib finds that democratic government and the
philosophy of John Locke encourages inclusiveness and an accommodating attitude toward multiculturalism (2002, pp.42-43).
However, she believes that cultural distinctiveness is vital for maintaining cultural identities within a democracy. Benhabib
is a strong proponent of pluralism and believes in preserving the historical experiences and contributions of each culture.
Benhabib is also a strong proponent of cosmopolitanism (2002, p. 183). She believes
in a world without borders and an open dialogue between people of diverse backgrounds. Benhabib offers a unique cultural philosophy
by being able to appreciate both similarities and differences in world cultures. However, this type of open-mindedness and
futuristic thinking invites criticism:
My quarrel with Seyla Benhabib's
The Claims of Culture concerns, first of all, the normative implications which she draws from the phenomenon of cultural
hybridity (1). Second, it concerns the limitations of her proposed claims of cultural dialogue in and through which the political
claims of culture are supposed to be thematized and adjudicated (2). And third, it concerns the unaccommodating scope of her
modernism (3). (1) Benhabib very confidently asserts that she has "put forth a philosophically adequate and social-scientifically
defensible concept of culture". However, she seems not to have given sufficient weight to the fact that the concept of
culture is itself highly contestable, as are the theoretical languages in which it has formulated. There can be considerable
disagreement framed by very different assumptions over what counts as culture, and to what it can be applied. (Kompridas,
2006, p. 389)
In summary, Benhabib has a broad
understanding of the complex issues regarding cultural diversity. She offers an optimistic worldview that focuses on ethical
universalism and has a pragmatic philosophy regarding the trend toward globalization. Her deep understanding of culture, narratives,
and cultural identities are creating a personal vision of global interconnectedness. Although there are critics who
are skeptical of her ideals on democratic citizenship in a global civilization, Benhabib is following the trends of expanding
multicultural movements that are transforming the world.
Philosophy in the Flesh (1999)
and Claims of Culture (2002) were chosen for this assignment because the former book investigates the meaning of
the interior world of a human being, while the later book is focusing on a future vision of humanity in the external world.
Interestingly, both books include references to Plato, and there was an opportunity in this paper to incorporate a possible
dissertation topic into the discourse.
In my view, Lakoff
and Johnson are taking a dogmatic attitude toward the materialist notion that the physical body is the center of a human being's
existence. Their arguments against the eternal nature of the soul do not appear to be "scientific" as they claim.
Additionally, they are steadfast in their belief that a human being is only physical, without giving sufficient weight to
the beliefs of billions of people who believe otherwise. They are not only challenging thousands of years of theology, but
they are also challenging the most brilliant minds of Western philosophy. Additionally, they are brash in their commentary
and have an abrasive style of writing. They offer little evidence for their theories, other than the unrelenting mantra that
their groundbreaking work is radically changing the tenets of traditional Western philosophy.
I feel that Philosophy in the Flesh (1999) is a massive work of unexamined assumptions,
in which the authors are attempting to bring down the notion that the mind can exist separately from the body. This is quite
an ambitious supposition, and especially without an offering straightforward critique of critically acclaimed authors who
have written numerous books on this subject. I would suggest to Lakoff and Johnson that they read several texts that are alignment
with Plato's logic in Phaedo. Here are just a few: Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor
(Campbell, 1979/2001), The Perennial Philosophy (Huxley, 1945/1970), The Varieties of Religious Experience
(James, 1902/2008), Jung on Death and Immortality (Jung, 1958/1999), and Forgotten Truth: The Common Vision of
the World's Religions (Smith, 1992). The problem for Lakoff and Johnson is that they are attempting to dismiss the life's
work of these authors and many others with an unproven theoretical proposition. Furthermore, the information provided by the
above-mentioned authors makes a strong case for refuting Lakoff and Johnson's conceptual metaphor theory. Lakoff and Johnson
have put themselves in a vulnerable position. If a scholarly debate were to take place on the disembodiment of the soul versus
the notion of conceptual metaphor theory; a great deal would be at stake for these two authors. This includes the possibility
that human beings may not possess an embodied mind, which would reduce conceptual metaphor to an illogical abstraction. Therefore,
it might be possible that language is reflecting the essence of human thoughts, which may be logical, descriptive, direct,
and have an exact meaning as stated.
of Culture (2002) looks to the exterior world in the hope of finding a balanced path that leads to an integrated world
of acceptance and diversity. Benhabib's reference to Plato's dialogues is symbolic of her attitude of inclusiveness and universalism.
In this book, she continually emphasizes the importance of including the contributions of many cultures to make "the
whole" that much greater. She wants to give credit to those cultures that are having a major impact on unifying humanity,
but at the same time she wants each culture to be proud if its heritage and historical identity. Thus, Benhabib is presenting
a philosophy of universalism that she envisions as a blueprint for the building of next chapter in world history.
Benhabib, S. (2002). The
claims of culture: Equality and diversity in the global era. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Campbell, J. (2001). Thou art that: Transforming religious metaphor. Novato,
CA: New World Library.
Carter, C. (2010). Science
and the near-death experience. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions.
A. (1945/1970). The perennial philosophy. New York: Harper Colophon.
James, W. (2008). The varieties of the religious experience: A study in human nature. New York: Megalodon
Jung, C. G. (1999). Jung on death and immortality.
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
N. (2006). The unsettled and unsettling claims of culture. Political Theory, 34(3), 389-396. doi: 10:1177/0090591706286986
Lakoff, G., Johnson, J. (1999). Philosophy in the flesh: The embodied mind and its
challenge to western thought. NY: Basic Books.
E. (2004). Conceptual metaphor theory as methodology for comparative religion. Journal of the American Academy of Religion,
72(1), 1-31. doi: 10.1093/jaarel/lfh002
Smith, H. (1992). Forgotten
truth: The common vision of the world's religions. New York: HarperOne.
Sowa, J.F. (1999, December). Review of Philosophy in the flesh: The embodied mind and its challenge to western
thought. [Review of the book Philosophy in the Flesh: The embodied mind and its challenge to western thought].
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