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Philosophy In The Flesh [Paperback]

George Lakoff
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 8 1999
What are human beings like? How is knowledge possible? What is truth? Where do moral values come from? Questions like these have stood at the center of Western philosophy for centuries. In addressing them, philosophers have made certain fundamental assumptions-that we can know our own minds by introspection, that most of our thinking about the world is literal, and that reason is disembodied and universal-that are now called into question by well-established results of cognitive science. It has been shown empirically that:Most thought is unconscious. We have no direct conscious access to the mechanisms of thought and language. Our ideas go by too quickly and at too deep a level for us to observe them in any simple way.Abstract concepts are mostly metaphorical. Much of the subject matter of philosopy, such as the nature of time, morality, causation, the mind, and the self, relies heavily on basic metaphors derived from bodily experience. What is literal in our reasoning about such concepts is minimal and conceptually impoverished. All the richness comes from metaphor. For instance, we have two mutually incompatible metaphors for time, both of which represent it as movement through space: in one it is a flow past us and in the other a spatial dimension we move along.Mind is embodied. Thought requires a body-not in the trivial sense that you need a physical brain to think with, but in the profound sense that the very structure of our thoughts comes from the nature of the body. Nearly all of our unconscious metaphors are based on common bodily experiences.Most of the central themes of the Western philosophical tradition are called into question by these findings. The Cartesian person, with a mind wholly separate from the body, does not exist. The Kantian person, capable of moral action according to the dictates of a universal reason, does not exist. The phenomenological person, capable of knowing his or her mind entirely through introspection alone,does not exist. The utilitarian person, the Chomskian person, the poststructuralist person, the computational person, and the person defined by analytic philosopy all do not exist.Then what does?Lakoff and Johnson show that a philosopy responsible to the science of mind offers radically new and detailed understandings of what a person is. After first describing the philosophical stance that must follow from taking cognitive science seriously, they re-examine the basic concepts of the mind, time,causation, morality, and the self: then they rethink a host of philosophical traditions, from the classical Greeks through Kantian morality through modern analytic philosopy. They reveal the metaphorical structure underlying each mode of thought and show how the metaphysics of each theory flows from its metaphors. Finally, they take on two major issues of twentieth-century philosopy: how we conceive rationality, and how we conceive language. Philosopy in the Flesh reveals a radically new understanding of what it means to be human and calls for a thorough rethinking of the Western philosophical tradition. This is philosopy as it has never been seen before.

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George Lakoff and Mark Johnson take on the daunting task of rebuilding Western philosophy in alignment with three fundamental lessons from cognitive science: The mind is inherently embodied, thought is mostly unconscious, and abstract concepts are largely metaphorical. Why so daunting? "Cognitive science--the empirical study of the mind--calls upon us to create a new, empirically responsible philosophy, a philosophy consistent with empirical discoveries about the nature of mind," they write. "A serious appreciation of cognitive science requires us to rethink philosophy from the beginning, in a way that would put it more in touch with the reality of how we think." In other words, no Platonic forms, no Cartesian mind-body duality, no Kantian pure logic. Even Noam Chomsky's generative linguistics is revealed under scrutiny to have substantial problems.

Parts of Philosophy in the Flesh retrace the ground covered in the authors' earlier Metaphors We Live By, which revealed how we deal with abstract concepts through metaphor. (The previous sentence, for example, relies on the metaphors "Knowledge is a place" and "Knowing is seeing" to make its point.) Here they reveal the metaphorical underpinnings of basic philosophical concepts like time, causality--even morality--demonstrating how these metaphors are rooted in our embodied experiences. They repropose philosophy as an attempt to perfect such conceptual metaphors so that we can understand how our thought processes shape our experience; they even make a tentative effort toward rescuing spirituality from the heavy blows dealt by the disproving of the disembodied mind or "soul" by reimagining "transcendence" as "imaginative empathetic projection." Their source list is helpfully arranged by subject matter, making it easier to follow up on their citations. If you enjoyed the mental workout from Steven Pinker's How the Mind Works, Lakoff and Johnson will, to pursue the "Learning is exercise" metaphor, take you to the next level of training. --Ron Hogan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Written by distinguished Berkeley linguist Lakoff and his coauthor on Metaphors We Live By (1983), this book explores three propositions claimed as "major findings" of cognitive science: "The mind is inherently embodied. Thought is mostly unconscious. Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical." Cognitive science, with its basic materialist bent, applies computer-based concepts, a little neurophysiology, and linguistic theory to human mental life. It will, the authors say, drastically change philosophy. They seem to think that we are really run by our deep wiring and the cultural concepts that become embodied metaphors. While seeking clarity by drawing out the implications of their basic notions, they add new puzzles. What does it mean to say "reason is not disembodied"? Read this book to see how (some?) cognitive scientists think. But read it with Charles P. Siewert's recent The Significance of Consciousness (Princeton Univ., 1998) for the traditional notions of consciousness. Readers will find there's still room for their own judgments.?Leslie Armour, Univ. of Ottawa, Canada
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
For over two millenia, nearly all worldly knowledge was regarded as falling under the general heading of philosophy. Physics, psychology, politics, and even economics were all regarded as various branches of study growing out of a single, philosophical trunk. Aristotle, the most systematic of the ancient philosophers, even dabbled in biology. But as human knowledge advanced, these various branches of study broke off from the philosophic stem and established themselves as independent sciences in their own right. Philosophy soon found itself reduced to metaphysics, morals, aesthetics, and epistemology. But now even epistemology is trying to break away. "Philosophy in the Flesh" documents the attempt of "cognitive science" to make epistemology an empirical science separate from philosophy. Its authors, Lakoff and Johnson, seek to challenge the largely introspective and "a priori" speculations of philosophical epistemology, which they regard as discreditable.
"Philosophy in the Flesh" commences by laying down three major findings of cognitive science: (1) that the mind is inherently embodied; (2) that thought is mostly unconscious; and (3) that abstract concepts are largely metaphorical. Assuming that these three findings are true (and, according to Lakoff & Johnson, they are empirically validated beyond any question), then it follows that many of the central tenets of the major philosophic traditions must be dismissed as hopelessly inadequate.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting premise marred by flawed exposition July 5 2003
By Jason
The authors set out on what *appeared* to be an interesting project. How could philosophy be reconstructed in order to be made compatible with the "results" of second-generation cognitive science? Yet Philosophy is not fundamentally an empirical enterprise. Empirical results, while interesting, do not often help to answer philosophical questions. Knowing that we conceptualize time as moving does little to tell us whether the A theory or the B theory of time is true. One of them must be, for they are mutually exclusive alternatives. Is space-time kind of substance, or is it merely a system of relations? Are propositions about the future true *now*? Nothing in this book will give you an inkling. The authors seem confused between a thing and and our conceptualization of it, and the majority of this book just seems like a long ad hominem circumstantial. Even if everyone who ever believed in God was absolutely insane, that would do nothing to settle the *philosophical* issue of whether or not God actually exists. The fact that we conceptualize time spatially tells us nothing about whether or not time is really like space. It might be, and it might not be, the fact that we conceptualize it thus is entirely irrelevant to the issue. The problem lies in their calling these cognitive mechanisms "metaphors", since calling them such presupposes that they cannot be literally true. Since the authors treat them as metaphors, they win by default, and there's simply no argument to be had. For example, they call "time is space" a metaphor. But is it really? The past does not seem to be co-located with the future. They do not interpenetrate each other, and this presupposes that they are indeed "separated" some quasi-spatial sense. Read more ›
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2.0 out of 5 stars more divided information (sighs) March 7 2003
By A Customer
Once again leave it to the western thinkers to drop the ball! For one, the mind being a inherented embodiment clearly shows that it is a programed mechanism regardless of what one chooses to see and secondly confront with the eyes to human limited logic relation. Please less question how we view what the brain really is! lmao! For starters lets see it as a common shell of our particular species that incases its own unique human snail. The human snail would be the ego personality as it relates as being a (MIND) within a system of a boundless MIND! Secondly thoughts being unconsciousness depends on your understanding of consciousness which is clearly limited in the views i have read as well as of this book. Thirdly abstract concepts being metaphoric, yes and no, it all depends on intuitiveness regardless of any secondary relation towards explaining a subject or even creating one, so in the end we can treat abstract concepts as being a fundamental concrete construct in the sense of getting many usages out of the same concept as seen through out all societies as ppl can use the same form to define asscoiated value to (it) differently. To sum up my point the ancient egyptians explained the whole mind and body relation way back in the day, too bad it was never understood in its entirety to outsiders. So on closing regardless of the mind/body relation, which is evident, this still does not take away from the claims of it all being intentionally induced or the constructs of an outside causer as i will explain in great volumes in the near future. For a better view of the limitations of human rationale read DAVID CHALMERS book entitled, The Conscious Mind (in search of a fundamental theory). Read more ›
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars important but not as original as it is supposed to be
I am only an amateur of philosophy and linguistics; but the points this book presents seem to me not as original as they are supposed to be. Read more
Published on Feb. 3 2004 by KC Tang
3.0 out of 5 stars Nothing new here
George Lakoff is best known for his writings in the area of linguistics- a field that has been dwindling since the heady days of the 60s. Read more
Published on Dec 24 2003 by Michael J. Edelman
3.0 out of 5 stars more subjects to make money
I give this book 3 stars for the long and extensive effort to once again make money off of senseless subjects, i mean this is pure genius maybe i need to jump on the bandwagon... Read more
Published on March 11 2003
4.0 out of 5 stars The logic of all flesh
First of all, despite the reference to 'flesh' in the title, the word 'sex' doesn't appear in the index. Maybe Freud said all there was to say about sex and philosophy. Read more
Published on May 17 2001 by Mark Mills
5.0 out of 5 stars Monumental must read
A monumental work which will change the way you think about your self, how you think about thinking about your self, and about whether you can think independently of your physical... Read more
Published on March 26 2001 by Dr. J. E. Richmond
5.0 out of 5 stars The best we have so far.
This volume is the best argument we have so far on behalf of the dismantling of Western philosphical traditions based on what has been learned about the human project by cognitive... Read more
Published on March 17 2001 by Craig Lucas
1.0 out of 5 stars Paradigmatic deconstruction to be taken with a pinch of salt
The central argument of this book is that human abstract thinking is built upon sensory-motor and concrete thinking which form the universal foundations of human cognitive activity... Read more
Published on March 3 2001 by Benjamin Rossen
4.0 out of 5 stars Closer to Eastern Thought Systems than was expected
A useful ancillary resource for the serious student, teacher and/or clinician in the serious study of post-Freudian works of Jaques Lacan, ancient cultural Chinese cosmological,... Read more
Published on Jan. 10 2001 by KS WILLNER
3.0 out of 5 stars the embodied mind and its trifles with western thought
I may just be an armchair philosopher, but I don't think this book's challenge is nearly as radical as it's rhetoric would suggest. Read more
Published on Jan. 3 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars Shame on them for not citing Piaget
Piaget's concept and work on sensory-motor intelligence and development of ideas, genetic epistemology etc. clearly anticipates them.
Published on Dec 16 2000
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