Volume 39, 2008
Philosophy of Language
Context, Compositionality and Metaphor
A general feature of language that appears to resist systematic semantic analysis is context-sensitivity. Since the birth of analytic philosophy, philosophers have thought the context-dependence of natural language renders it unsuitable for analysis by the semantic tools of the logician. And metaphor appears to pose a particularly vexing problem in that, in addition to being difficult to systematize for other reasons, it is also context-dependent. However in recent years, the problem of context-dependency has moved to the foreground in the philosophy of language. And some theorists have taken on the daunting challenge of accounting for
our context-variant intuitions about what is said by systematic means. The central point of this paper then is to show that the resources these theorists use are far more powerful than the theorists realize. I argue that if these theorists are correct about context-sensitivity, the same resources they use to make context-sensitivity compatible with semantic systematicity can be used to yield a systematic semantic account of metaphor. The paper can be viewed as either a powerful consideration against adopting the resources of theorists who seek to explain all contextsensitivity semantically, or a powerful consideration against those who
believe metaphor to be merely a matter of language use.