Jacques Maritain Center : Studies in Analogy / by Ralph McInerny


By way of summary we want to state (1) how metaphor is opposed to analogy; (2) how analogy is a kind of metaphor, and (3) how metaphor is a kind of analogy. As we have just seen, metaphor consists of the application of the name of one thing to another. Consequently, the metaphorical use of a term entails a reference to the proper meaning of that term. If we are going to speak of an explanation as casting light on a subject, what we are saying depends for its intelligibility on our auditor's knowing what light is, e.g. the sun, a desk lamp. It is that meaning which enables us to say that something like light is operative in intellection because it has an effect similar to light in the proper sense. In its metaphorical use, it is not the denominating form of "light" which comes into play, but an effect of what is denominated from that form. The analogous name, as opposed to metaphorical usage, involves a new way of signifying the res significata, a new way in which something is denominated from that form. As analogous it is denominated from that form, not per prius, but with reference to what is first of all denominated from it and to which appeal will be made to explain this new meaning. Thus, in analogical signification, while the same res significata is involved, there are various modes of signifying it, one of which will be primary, more familiar and proper. Thus, the rule that, in things named analogically, ratio propria non invenitur nisi in uno is universal; it is as true of the divine names and being as it is of healthy. In analogy, but not in metaphorical usage, there is an extension in the meaning of the word, the formation of another ratio of the name. This new ratio, like the ratio propria, will contain the res significata, but the mode will vary. It is just the judgment that the res significata permits of various modi significandi which explains Augustine's position on the propriety of using "light" to speak of spiritual things. Thanks to the recognition of the new way of signifying the denominating form, they are seen to fall under the distribution of the term. Metaphorical usage does not involve a new way of signifying the same form, a proportion to the res significata by way of the ratio propria; rather, the metaphor refers the thing so named to what is properly named by the term in question because of a similarity of effects or properties. What is named metaphorically is not denominated by the form of the name in question in a manner which, secundum ordinem nominis, involves reference to the mode involved in the ratio propria of the name. In this fashion, we can disstinguish quite properly the metaphor from the analogous name and there is not the slightest need to introducte the notions of intrinsic and extrinsic denomination in the way Cajetan would.

    Despite this formal distinction of metaphor and analogy, we can speak of analogy as a kind of metaphor. To do so, we must of course back off from the restricted meaning of metaphorical usage given in the preceding paragraph and go rather to the etymology, μεταφερεῖν, to transfer. Both metaphor in the narrow sense and the analogical extension of the meaning of a word involve a transfer of the word from a more usual and familiar context. This would seem to explain the passage we cited above concerned with the extension of "nature" to any essence whatever, where the extension in question seems to involve a new way of signifying the denominating form and yet is said to take place by way of metaphor. It could also be argued that the recognition of the analogical extension of the meaning of a term implies that the term had first of all been used metaphorically (in the narrow sense). Reflection on the metaphor could suggest that not only a similarity of effects is present, but a new way of being denominated from the form of the word. Thus metaphor in the narrow sense could be said to give way to analogy, but the analogy then recognized could still be called a metaphor in the sense of a transfer of the name from what saves its ratio propria to what saves the res significata in a different mode. Aristotle and St Thomas, who maintain that sensible things are the connatural objects of our intellect and that whereby we come to know whatever else we know, see an unavoidable fittingness in our employment of the names we impose to signify material things to signify any other entities we come to know. As our knowledge of other entities is dependent on our knowledge of sensible things, so the process of naming will reflect the progress of our knowledge and we will  have no choice but to extend or transfer the names of material things to immaterial things.

    Can we say that metaphorical usage is a kind of analogy? There is certainly no doubt that metaphorical usage is often based on a proportional similitude. We pointed out earlier that, in the Poetics, Aristotle mentions one kind of metaphor which is based on a proportional similitude. We pointed out earlier that, in the Poetics, Aristotle mentions one kind of metaphor which is based  on an analogy; St Thomas seems always to link metaphor with such proportional similitude. When speaking of metaphors applied to God, this is surely the only species of metaphor we can employ since the three other kinds arre based on genus/species relations. It goes without saying that such proportional similarity is not what is meant by the analogous name. If the cup is to Dionysus what the shield is to Ares, we have a proportional similarity and there is of course as yet no question either of metaphor or of an analogous name. It is when the cup of Dionysus is spoken of as his shield, on the basis of the proportional similarity, that the matter of metaphor arises. If, with reference to its ground, such a metaphor is called analogical, well, we can see quite clearly what is and what is not meant.

    We may add here, by way of an aside, that when an analogical extension of the meaning of a common term is based on such a proportional similarity, there is a pile-up of meanings of "analogy." That is we could say that the analogy (i.e. analogous name) is founded on an analogy (i.e. proportional similarity). It would be confusion confounded to equate the analogical name with analogy in the sense of proportional similarity, since the latter is not itself an analogous name - it may found metaphorical usage, analogical extension of the meaning of a common name, or neither.

   There is another way in which the metaphor may be called an analogy, this time in the sense of an analogous name. In the adverbial scale we spoke of earlier, we saw St Thomas recognize a gradation in the manner of signifying the res significata of the common name which ranged from propriissime through proprie and communiter. Communiter and minime proprie seem sometimes to be equated with metaphorice by St Thomas and the suggestion is given that metaphor differs from analogical extension of meaning in degree rather than in kind. There are several possible reasons for this suggestion. One is that such a distance has been traversed from the ratio propria that reference to it is almost lost and the word may seem to be used equivocally. Another reason would be that there is involved in metaphorical usage a reference to the ratio propria, although this is quite different from that involved in the extension proprie of the name.

While we feel that we have arrived at a formal difference between the metaphorical use of a term and its analogical extension as well as reasons for calling analogous terms metaphors and vice versa, we would like to end by stressing the exploratory nature of our effort with respect to the total position of St Thomas. There is much important work to be done if we are to grasp the scope and subtelty of St Thomas' doctrine on language. To mention a few points of interest: the phrase locutio figurativa is broader than locutio metaphorica;{1} moreover, in speaking of the formula for consecration of the wine in the Mass, St Thomas dwells on the metonymic and metaphorical import of the sentence. Needless to say, if our essay is tentative with respect to Thomas, it is quite inadequte with respect to current discussions. Of these, the contributions of C. S. Lewis and Owen Barfield are of particular importance.{2} perhaps our effort will help to renew interest in the old treatments of metaphor so that a fruitful encounter with contemporary views will be possible.


{1} Cf. In Ephes., cap. 1, lect. 8; IV Sent., d. 8, q. 2, a. 2, quest. 2.

{2} C. S. Lewis, "Bluspels and Flalansferes," in Rehabilitations and Other Essays, London: Oxford University Press, 1939; Owen Barfield, "The Meaning of the Word Literal," in Metaphor and Symbol, edited by L. C. Knights and Basil Cottle, Butterworths Scientific Publications, London, 1960, pp. 48-63.

© 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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