Metaphor as Technology, Module 2: Teaching Instructions

In these pages of Lakoff and Johnson's Metaphors We Live By, students will learn that "every experience takes place within a vast background of cultural experience" (57) as they practice their new skills of extracting metaphors from ordinary language. In the paragraph from Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding, one finds a slew metaphors:

A. mind = paper (in a printing press)

ideas = (printed) characters

B. mind = room

ideas = furniture in the room

C. mind = storehouse or warehouse

ideas = goods stored

D. mind = canvas

ideas = painted figures

E. mind = building

ideas = materials for the building

F. knowledge = spring, fountain

Go through each of these metaphors asking students to think about what each one highlights and hides. In each case, ask students whether the metaphor has become part of our cultural assumptions -- rather, say, than just Locke's artful way of talking and thinking -- by trying to find ordinary sentences for each one:

A. He made such an impression on me! She makes a terrible first impression.

B. You could rearrange some of your thoughts in this essay.

C. He ran out of ideas. Don't waste you thoughts on small things. How you package your ideas is most important.

D. ??

E. Your ideas need a stronger foundation, better support. Your ideas offer a good framework for thinking about this issue.

F. The ideas flowed from her pen. He blurted out his thought. His ideas came out in a torrent.

In The Education of Henry Adams, we find two main metaphors for the students to be educated and thus, implicitly, for human minds:

A. Student (Mind) = manikin

Education (Ideas) = "toilet (the activity of bathing and dressing)"

Education (Ideas) = clothes

B. Student (Mind) = (mechanical) form of energy; a machine

Education = economy of force; efficiency (and now, significantly, we are no longer talking about ideas in the mind as education's goal, but rather mastery and output)

(Implicitly, then, Mind = machinic force producing not ideas but practical applications.)

Have these ideas entered mainstream thought, the cultural assumptions informing the metaphors we live by?

A. If you clothe your ideas in better language, they'll be more acceptable.

B. Come down from the clouds: you need to be more practical, more efficient.



First- or second-year college students / AP English (high school)


Students should be able to identify metaphors in and see their impact upon philosophical discourse. In The Education of Henry Adams, we see him using metaphors that directly contradict his consciously-held beliefs about humanity.


Students will probably not feel comfortable without mini lectures about John Locke and Henry Adams. They also have trouble thinking about the implications of various ideas. Get them into groups that perform the two tasks: a) practice picking out metaphors from sentences and/or b) offer them various models for an emotion or a problem, and then list on the board all the features of the models. Then ask them to write sentences beginning, "The implications of understanding alcoholism as a disease are ____________." Next, present Adams's metaphors for students as mechanical minds, listing the features of mannikins and assembly-lines. Ask what attributing those features to people implies about what people are. Then ask if those implications contradict his antipathy for Ford-like economics as potentially inhumane. Ask students to think about how they would like to be seen by teachers, what metaphors for them they would like teachers to use when they speak about them. Such a discussion leads well into assignment number three in which they look at James's argument about teaching and the metaphors that sustain and contradict it.


Write at least three ordinary sentences on the board and ask students collectively to a) identify the metaphor and b) make a list of attributes of the metaphor. Ask students to each write a paragraph about the implications of those metaphors for thinking about the object to which they are applied. It is sometimes difficult for them to tease out implications. If they can do this, the unit has succeeded.