JOHN R. SEARLE
FORMULATING THE PROBLEM
you hear somebody say, "Sally is a block of
ice," or "Sam is a pig," you are likely to
assume that the speaker does not mean what
he says literally but
he is speaking
you are not
likely to have very much trouble figuring out
what he means.
he says, "Sally is a prime
number between 17 and 23," or "Bill is a barn
door," you might still assume he is speaking
metaphorically, but it is much harder to figure
out what he means.
The existence of such
utterances-utterances in which the speaker
from what the sentence means literally-poses
a series of questions for any theory of lan-
guage and communication: What is metaphor,
and how does it differ from both literal and
other forms of figurative utterances? Why do
we use expressions metaphorically instead of
saying exactly and literally what we mean?
How do metaphorical utterances work, that
is, how is it possible for speakers to communi-
cate to hearers when speaking metaphorically
inasmuch as they do not say what they mean?
And why do some metaphors work and others
In my discussion, I propose to tackle this
work-both because of its intrinsic interest,
and because it does not seem to me that we
shall get an answer to the others until this
has been answered.
Before we can begin to understand it, how-
ever, we need to formulate the question more
The problem of explaining how metaphors
work is a special case of the general problem
of explaining how speaker meaning and sen-
tence or word meaning come apart.
special case, that is, of the problem of how it is
possible to say one thing and mean something
else, where one succeeds in communicating
what one means even though both the speaker
and the hearer know that the meanings of the
words uttered by the speaker do not exactly
and literally express what the speaker meant.
Some other instances of the break between
speaker's utterance meaning and literal sen-
tence meaning are irony and indirect speech
acts. In each of these cases, what the speaker
means is not identical with what the sentence
means, and yet what he means is in various
ways dependent on what the sentence means.
is essential to emphasize at the very
on the one hand, and
speaker's meaning or utterance meaning, on
the other. Many writers on the subject try to
(Cambridge: Cambridge University