Jacques Maritain Center : Studies in Analogy / by Ralph McInerny


Metaphor and Analogy

There seems little reason to doubt that within the Thomist tradition it is assumed that a metaphor is one thing, an analogous term another, and that while metaphor is justifiable - certainly in poetry, but as well if for different reasons in Scripture - it is, generally speaking, something the philosopher should take pains to avoid, since it can vitiate arguments and obscure issues. St Thomas himself often characterized the metaphor as improper usage, thereby of course opposing it to proper usage. The question arises, however, when we consider the texts carefully, whether metaphor is opposed to the analogous name or whether proper and improper usage of the kind at issue are subtypes of something more commodious embracing them both; that is, it appears from a reading of some texts that St Thomas does not so much oppose metaphor to analogy as that he contrasts the analogous usage which is metaphorical because improper to the analogous usage which is proper. Cajetan's division of analogy of proportionality into proper and improper responds to this suggestion of St Thomas, and if the great commentator tends to regard metaphor as something less than a full-fledged analogy, well surely that does not mean that it is in no way an analogy.{1}

    If it seems possible to say that the opposition between analogy and metaphor is not one between analogy and non-analogy but an opposition between modes of analogy, it seems equally possible to consider "metaphor" as a term common to the analogous term and the metaphor opposed to it; that is, as common to proper and improper usage. This can be based on the way in which Aristotle and St Thomas speak of the extension of the name "nature" to signify any essence whatsoever; Aristotle used the dative, μεταφορᾷ; St. Thomas the phrase, secundum quamdam metaphoram,{2} yet I think no one would want to say we are speaking metaphorically, in the sense of improperly, when we talk of the nature of the triangle, for example.

    These few remarks serve to indicate that the relative status of metaphor and analogy is somewhat problematic. The aporia can be tightened by recalling that Aristotle, in the Poetics, enumerates four species of metaphor only one of which is χατ᾿ ἀναλογίαν{3} Does this mean that only one species of metaphor is in play in the foregoing considerations? If that be true, any resolution of the questions which arise as to the opposition of metaphor to analogy as proper usage would not as such enlighten us on the nature of metaphor without qualification, i.e., the genus of which the metaphor based on analogy is a species.

    Although we have introduced this discussion as if it were merely a matter of clarifying alternate classifications suggested by texts of Aquinas, it is obvious that such an effort, if seriously pursued, must inevitably go beyond the fairly superficial plane on which it presents itself. What we are finally after here is an answer to the question, "What, for Aquinas, is a metaphor?" and our way of broaching it serves to call attention to the fact that an answer to the question presumes that we can answer the equally or more difficult question, "What is analogy?" Our opening paragraphs prepare us, moreover, for the likelihood that the answer to the question about metaphor may well begin, "Metaphora dicitur multipliciter..."


Before turning to the texts of St Thomas, we shall first of all say a few things about Cajetan's teaching on the nature of metaphor, and this without apology given Cajetan's generally admitted influences on this and related discussions. It is well known that in the De nominum analogia, Cajetan links metaphor with proportionality rather than with what he calls analogy of attribution. Having explained what is meant by proportionality, Cajetan writes, "Fit autem duobus modis analogia haec: scilicet metaphorice et proprie. Metaphorice quidem quando nomen illud commune absolute unam habet rationem formalem, quae is uno amalogatorum salvatur, et per metaphoram de alio dicitur."{4} It is unfortunate that this cannot be considered a good definition because of the occurrence of per metaphoram in what purports to be an explication of metaphor. It should be noticed, moreover, that Cajetan's faillure to define metaphor is not without its impact on his attempt to define proper proportionality: "Proprie vero fit, quando nomen illud commune in utroque analogatorum absque metaphoris dicitur."{5}

    When we turn to the discussions of chapter seven of Cajetan's opusculum, we find further statements about metaphor of which the following is most important. "In analogia siquidem secundum metaphoram, oportet unum in alterius ratione poni, non indifferenter; sed proprie sumptum, in ratione sui metaphorice sumpti claudi necesse est; quoniam impossibile est intelligere quid sit aliquid secundum metaphoram nomen, nisi cognito illo, ad cuius metaphoram dicitur,"{6} Now, as Cajetan points out in the following paragraph as well as in his commentary on the Summa theologiae,{7} in this the socalled analogy of improper proportionality and analogy of attribution are as one, since this is the third condition of Cajetan's analogy of attribution.{8}

    If we ask why Cajetan has multiplied entities here rather than making what he calls attribution coalesce with his improper proportionality, the answer would seem to be the necessity for a proportionality in metaphor and its absence in attribution. The text on which Cajetan relies here is, of course, Q.D. de veritate, q. 2, a. 11, although it seems ambiguous on the question whether metaphor is a kind of analogy. Consider the phrase "Sed tamen hoc dupliciter contingit" which occurs after the description of analogy as implying no determinate relation between things sharing a common name. But the first member of the division is stated thus: "quandoque enim illud nomen importat aliquid ex principali significatione, in quo non potest attendi convenientia inter Deum et creaturam, etiam modo praedicto; sicut est in omnibus quae symbolice dicuntur de Deo, ut cum dicitur leo, vel sol, vel huismodi, quia in horum definitione cadit materia, quae Deo attribui non potest." To what does etiam modo praedicto refer? Does the occurrence of attribui in the denial mean that it is Cajetan's analogy of attribution which is being set aside? This seems unlikely, even if we are willing to grant the accuracy of Cajetan's division of analogy. What the text suggests is that a name is sometimes predicated of God on the basis of a proportionality which, because of its principal signification, argues for no similarity between God and creatures so named with respect to that principal signification. Does this make metaphor a kind of analogous name? Does it mean that for St. Thomas unlike Aristotle, the meaphor is always based on a proportionality? Whatever the answer to these quetions, it must be said that the remarks of Cajetan we have consulted are not very illuminating on the nature of metaphor.To give the great commentator his due, we quote a definition he gives in his commentary on the first question of the Summa. "In titulo uti metaphoris est uti locutionibus quae non verificantur de his de quibus dicuntur, secundum propriam significationem, sed secundum aliquam similitudinem ad propria significata: ut cum dicitur quod 'Deus noster ignis consumens est,' utimus metaphora; quia Deus non est vee ignis sed se habet ad modum ignis consumentis."{9}

    This appeal to Cajetan serves as an oblique introduction to some of the problems which await us when we turn to St Thomas. It will be noticed that if there is no formal connection between metaphor and proportionality at least one member of Cajetan's suggested division of analogy is gratuitous and unnecessary. Moreover, what Cajetan calls analogy of attribution would then be indistinguishable from metaphor and, since most discussions of analogy in St Thomas include examples which for Cajetan are examples of analogy of attribution, the whole matter of a distinction between metaphor and analogy becomes considerably obscured. But then the way Cajetan handles difficulties presented to his division of analogy by Aquinas' discussion of analogy indicates that that division is not formal. Thus, when Cajetan asks us to notice that St. Thomas gives an example of so-called analogy of attribution in discussing names common to God and creature, he suggests that intrinsic and extrinsic denomination are really irrelevant when we want to know what an analogous name is.{10} But we have expatiated elsewhere on the deficiencies of Cajetan's treatment of analogy and need not repeat those criticisms here.{11} In short, our employment of Cajetan here is intended to intensify our problem rather than to commend the Cajetanian interpretation.


{1} Cf. De nominum analogia (ed. P. N. Zammit, O.P. and P.H. Hering, O.P., Romae, 1952), cap.3.

{2} Metaphysics, Delta, 4, 1051a11; St. Thomas, ad loc., lectio 5, n. 823.

{3} Poetics, chap. 21, 1457b9, 16.

{4} Op. cit., n. 25.

{5} Ibid, n. 26.

{6} Cap. 7, n. 75, Cajetan doubtless has in mind here such remarks as that in De veritate, q. 7, a. 2, c.: "In his quae translative dicuntur, non accipitur metaphora secundum quamcumque similitudinem, sed decundum convenientiam in illo quod est de propria ratione eius cuius nomen transfertur."

{7} In Iam, q. 13, a. 6, n. IV: "Ad hoc breviter dicitur, quod analoga inveniuntur duobus modis. Quaedam enim significant ipsos respectus ad primum analogatum, ut patet de sano. Quaedam vero significant fundamenta tantum illorum respectuum; ut communiter invenitur in omnibus vere analogis, proprie et formaliter salvatis in omnibus analogatis. Proposi tio ergo illa universalis in antecedente assumpta, intelligenda est universaliter in primo modo analoggiae: ita quod sensus est, quod in omnibus nominibus quae de pluribus analogice, idest secundum diversos respectus, dicuntur, oportet poni unum. In quaestione de Veritate de secundo modo analogiae dixit oppositum. Et haec responsio est universalior ea quam alibi assignavimus, ex Qu. de Ver., quia ista responsio habet locum in analogis secundum proportionalitatem, metaphorice tamen dictis: in his enim etiam unum ponitur in ratione alterius." - As he had pointed out in his opusculum (n. 76): "Et propter hoc huiusmodi analoga prius dicuntur de his, in quibus proprie salvatur, et posterius de his, in quibus metaphorice inveniuntur, et habent in hoc affinitatem cum analogis secundum attributionem, ut patet."

{8} Op. cit., cap. 2, n. 14.

{9} Iam q. 1, a. 9, n. 1.

{10} In Iam, q. 13, 1. 5, n. XIV, in fine.

{11} The Logic of Analogy. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1961.

© 2011 by the Estate of Ralph McInerny. All rights reserved including the right to translate or reproduce this book or parts thereof in any form.

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