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(1978) Organism, medicine, and metaphysics, Dordrecht, Springer.

Metaphor and the ineffable

illumination on "the nobility of sight"

Hannah Arendt

pp. 303-316

Mental activities, driven to language as the only medium for their manifestation, each draw their metaphors from a different bodily sense, and their plausibility depends upon an innate affinity between certain mental and certain sensory data. Thus, from the outset in formal philosophy, thinking has been thought of in terms of seeing, and since thinking is the most fundamental and the most radical of mental activities, it is quite true that vision "has tended to serve as the model of perception in general and thus as the measure of the other senses."1 The predominance of sight is so deeply embedded in Greek speech and therefore in our conceptual language that we seldom find any consideration bestowed on it, as though it belonged among things too obvious to be noticed. A passing remark by Heraclitus, "The eyes are more exact witnesses than the ears,"2 is an exception, and not a very helpful one. On the contrary, if one considers how easy it is for sight, unlike the other senses, to shut out the outside world and if one examines the early notion of the blind bard, whose stories are being listened to, one may wonder why hearing did not develop into the guiding metaphor for thinking.3 Still, it is not altogether true that, in the words of Hans Jonas, "the mind has gone where vision pointed."4 The metaphors used by the theoreticians of the Will are hardly ever taken from the visual sphere; their model is either desire as the quintessential property of all our senses — in that they serve the general appetitiveness of a needy and wanting being — or they are drawn from hearing, in line with the Jewish tradition of a God who is heard but not seen.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/978-94-009-9783-7_17

Full citation:

Arendt, H. (1978)., Metaphor and the ineffable: illumination on "the nobility of sight", in S. Spicker (ed.), Organism, medicine, and metaphysics, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 303-316.

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