Metaphor as a creative discovery of similarity

The Aristotelian outlook allows us to integrate knowledge and action. Or, rather, it allows to see the human being as a unitary whole, whose motivations, knowledge and movements are only different in the analysis, but are physically integrated in one and the same substance, they are that substance. The notion of practical truth, or creative discovery, is then applicable to all aspects of human life. The prime object of creative discovery is similarity. This process of creative discovery could correctly be called metaphorization. To discover the similarity is at the same time to actualize it. The discovery of the similarity breaks the extremes of identity and difference, produces a mid point and, better, enables us to see ‘this’ as ‘that’ and, from there, to build concepts, laws and theories, and to physically transform ‘this’ into ‘that’, in what would be just one more differentiated action.

‘[...]we all naturally find it agreeable to get hold of new ideas easily; words express ideas and therefore those words are the most agreeable that enable us to get hold of new ideas. Now strange words simply puzzle us; ordinary words convey only what we know already; it is from metaphor that we can best get hold of something fresh (he dè metaphorá poieî toûto málista ). When the poet calls old age “a withered stalk”, he conveys a new idea, a new fact, to us by means of the general notion (dià toû génous ) of “lost bloom”, which is common to both things. The similes of the poets do the same, and therefore, if they are good similes, give an effect of brilliance[^25] ‘.

Let us comment on some salient features of this passage. After this text, no doubt could remain of the cognitive purport of metaphor and simile, although Aristotle does stress that in order to be cognitive, they must fulfil certain requirements, that is they must be proper.

Secondly, we are informed that teaching is accomplishedby means of the kind (dià toû génous ), when an objective similarity hits one in the eye. The kind is but a means of gaining knowledge - it is not the final purpose of knowledge. Showing that two entities are similar in some way, that they belong to thesame kind , enables us to transfer our knowledge of the more familiar one to the other, thus affording us a better understanding of the new or inexperienced. This transfer must, however, be subject to the filter of critical scrutiny to avoid improper uses.

Thirdly, Aristotle unites the æsthetic and cognitive aspects of an expression. In hisRhetorics [^26] , he also asserts that learning and admiring are sources of pleasure[^27] .

What does Aristotle mean by a proper metaphor or comparison? We may recall here the passage fromPoetics [^28] defining four types of metaphorical expression bearing in mind that he goes on to say that ‘of the four kinds of metaphor the most taking is the proportional kind’. It is therefore clear that an image is proper insofar as it is based upon an objective proportional analogy and expresses areal similarity allowing us the information transfer from one pole to the other.

What, then, became of the creative aspect of metaphor? Did it turn out to be a mere discovery? Is this kind of knowledge not simply a mirror or nature?

The concept ofcreative, or poietic, discovery is used by Haley[^29] as an intermediate between the traditional and interactionist views of metaphor. According to the former, true metaphor is just a discovery of underlying similarities, where the cognitive subject has a rather passive function - it is a mirror of nature. Interactionism, on the other hand, proclaims metaphoric creativity, with a subject that creates a web of connections, organizing reality in an active way. Nevertheless, this view fails to provide a clear account of the constraints affecting the creation, interpretation and evaluation of figures. Indurkhya is also aware of this shortcoming and seeks to solve it. In my opinion, however, finding a solution to this problem depends on the acknowledgement of  the objective pole, that is, real similarities that one can either discover or fail to discover. Yet nothing in the expression itself allows for mechanical decoding, for a metaphor works or not according to the interpreter, to his background, and his creativity in building conjectures. It also depends on the world itself, on thepotential (butreal ) similarities between entities dwelling in it. What then, could possibly constitute a creative discovery?

We shall see. Similarities uncovered by true metaphorical expressions are real. There are objective constraints existing aspossibilities in entities - any two entities either have or do not have the potential to be seen as similar in some respect by a given cognitive subject.  We cannot, however, rest on any special intuitive faculty for similarities. The potential for objects to be seen as similar cannot be actualized or communicated without an active subject[^30] . In the first place, we need to invent conjectures or hypotheses and set them up against the facts. In this way, we are able to descry new resemblances between objects. On the other hand we can also try to communicate them by means of a metaphorical expression, that is, by building new language or stretching the semantic range of existing language. To construe a metaphor, however, the receiver needs to display the same creative attitude as we have before nature. It is in this sense that metaphor is just as much a discovery as a creation. It may rightly be called, then, acreative, or poietic,  discovery .

The expression ‘creative discovery’ is not explicitly mentioned in Aristotle’sPoetics , nor in hisRhetoric , though I would not consider it anachronistic to say that its meaning may be inferred from several passages, for example:

‘Metaphors must be drawn, as has been said already, from things that are related to the original thing, and yet not obviously related - just as in philosophy also an acute mind will perceive resemblances even in things far apart’[^31] .


‘the greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor. It is the one thing that cannot be learnt from others, and it is also a sign of genius[...]’[^32] .

Spotting resemblances for the first time requires the invention of new points of view, of new interpretative hypotheses, of new and fallible conjectures.Similarity is not that which is at the same time in two different places or substances, but that which can be created from both by a cognitive agent. Consequently, similarity is not a direct or ontic relationship between two or more objects, as all dynamic action is, but one established by means of a subject[^33] . In spite of the objective character ofpotential similarities, there are noactual ones unless they are established by a cognitive subject.

We very often find that a good metaphor, because of its creative nature,  seems unpredictable yet, owing to its characteristic of objective discovery,  it appear obvious to nearly everybody once enunciated. Thus, Aristotle said that metaphor gave greater clarity than anything else could[^34] and makes us see[^35] . Metaphor, Aristotle states, brings our senses face to face with reality: ‘I mean using expressions thatrepresent things as in a state of activity (ósa energoûnta semaínei )[^36] .