METAPHOR and ARGUMENTATION

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The research group “Linguistica.Mente” is pleased to announce the forthcoming research project:

METAPHOR AND ARGUMENTATION
Principal investigator:  Prof. Elisabetta Gola (University of Cagliari)
Research unit of the project “Argomentazione e Metafora. Effetti della comunicazione persuasiva nel territorio sardo” (PI: Prof. Francesco Paoli), financed by Autonomous Sardinia Region – RAS.

Abstract:

Is there a relationship between metaphor and argumentation? Argumentation succeeds when it keeps the truth and the force of reasoning, while metaphor succeeds when it provides sentences with aptness and persuasive force, even though it makes them false and improper. Everyday sentences, such as “life is a journey”, contains metaphors. We can utter sentences with new metaphors, such as “life is a picture”, which is false as well as “life is a journey”. However, even though both of them are literally false, only “life is a journey” has a good degree of strength. That is not only because it is a dead metaphor, i.e. part of everyday language use, but also because it favors a greater number of useful logical inferences to understand the complex concept of “life”.
Many advertisements consist of a statement where a metaphor occurs. An example is the advertisement proposed by “Vacanze romane” Italian bar and restaurant chain: “Coffee is balm for the heart and the spirit”. This sentence is clearly false: coffee is not a balm. However its context of use might cause it to be perceived as true, or at least plausible, and induce people to have a coffee in that bar, because its coffee is restoring like a balm. From a literal point of view, it is false, but from a non-literal point of view it seems true. This might be the reason why metaphor is used in advertising: for its highly persuasive nature. In an argument used to persuade someone, a sentence containing an effective metaphor might then facilitate the desired effect.
Metaphors and argumentation are then tightly tied themes: the soundness of an argument could depend on the aptness of a metaphor and, vice versa, the success of a metaphor could come from the force of an underpinning argument. Following this intuition, the research project aims at understanding the effect of metaphor in arguments, by answering two questions:
1. How much can metaphors influence the truth-condition perception of a statement?
2. How much can metaphors influence the perception of the soundness of the overall argument?
To answer these questions, the project aims at empirically testing the persuasive force of figurative language in argumentative discourse to understand why and how figurative language leads to argumentative fallacies.
In particular, the project aims at exploring the class of the so-called lexical ambiguity fallacies, where the nature of the terms plays a fundamental role in the comprehension of the overall argument and might influence its persuasive force. Fallacies of this sort inherit their ambiguity from the terms composing them, which can be polysemous in a broad sense, i.e. they may permit several different (literal and non-literal) meanings. A process of meaning disambiguation occurs to identify the argumentative fallacy and, in case of metaphor, a process of interpretation is required. The hypothesis is that the more a metaphor is part of everyday language use in a linguistic community, the more difficult disambiguation and the more persuasive the overall argument.
The analysis of ambiguity fallacies will then follow two tightly bound research lines:

1. A theoretical and empirical research line on the relationship between logic and pragmatic aspects of argumentation, to understand the cognitive processes and linguistic abilities involved in the comprehension of meaning ambiguities which lead to fallacies of reasoning. This part of the project will take place at the University of Cagliari.
2. An application research line on the didactics of critical thinking in small and medium enterprises, to enhance the argumentative and communicative competences of the employers in the customers’ service. This part of the project will take place at the regional section of Confindustria Giovani, the net of Italian young entrepreneurs.

Therefore, this research project proposes an interdisciplinary approach which combines the logic-philosophical analysis and the empirical methodology to study the pragmatic aspects of metaphors in argumentation and to understand how people might become aware of their persuasive force.

Further info: Francesca Ervas, ervas@unica.it
Website: forthcoming

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