I’m finding George Lakoff and cohorts unique (but maybe that’s my lack of looking enough) in that they seem among the first to posit a direct, naturalized account of logic and mathematics, as extended metaphors on basic concepts we learn at young ages.

Quine didn’t hold his, while a naturalist he held logic and math don’t directly answer to the world most of the time:

How is Quine to explain the apparent necessity and a priori status of some truths without appeal to the Principle of Tolerance? Quine’s holism is the view that almost none of our knowledge is directly answerable to experience.


Logical positivists wouldn’t have either as math and logic are analytic and a priori, not empirical.

Not Kant either.

Seems like these kind of questions were ignored for a while(?), then back to Aristotle and Plato.

The little I know of them and how they regarded math and logic are that forms are ultimate causes to Plato, and Aristotle relied on the Socratic method/elenchus to posit the law of noncontradiction in his Metaphysics. These are not direct enough to be in the category of Lakoff I think. Winning a Socratic argument (elenchus) isn’t the same as Lakoff is doing (yet Aristotle is a father of science even…), and Plato’s forms are criticized by Aristotle for being too disconnected from the world I believe.

Yet it doesn’t take modern science to imagine what Lakoff is attempting, so why so late coming?. A completely naturalized conceptual metaphor as and for the law of excluded middle and principle of noncontradiction doesn’t seem outrageous. Think of the reasoning in searching for a missing child as your boat capsizes-you know the child must be on the boat or in the water, if you search the boat it’s time to search the water. I’m not using that scenario Socratically I don’t think, I’m saying it because it may point to a natural reason for us having such capacities of thought and reasoning. My instinct upon hearing it is to disengage the Socratic method and take up a new one for this task. Does that distinction make sense?

  • This question could be dramatically improved by your summarizing and linking to what you think is innovative and relevant in Lakoff, and explaining what you mean by "naturalized". By my meaning, the early assertions for "One True Logic (OTL)" presumed either A) OTL is present in the universe, and is directly apprehendable (direct realist naturalism), or B) OTL is present in the universe, and we correctly infer it thru indirect realist inference. For either, a Darwinian perspective would presume our neurology would be tuned to make this leap, without having to reason its thru for each of us.
    – Dcleve
    Aug 5 at 16:22
  • Pluralists can hold by naturalism, that parts of our universe have different logic features, and the most common is classical logic. And that our neurology is tuned to think in classical terms, as a shortcut to understanding problems. Would Lakoff be the first to express this? I don't know. Kahneman's work (Thinking Fast and Slow) pretty explicitly refutes the premise of classical logic being evolutionary tho.
    – Dcleve
    Aug 5 at 16:27
  • @JKusin I see you rolled back my proposed edits. Let me know if you're okay with me taking another pass to clean up your grammar. The first vote for closure may not be the last.
    – J D
    Aug 5 at 18:19
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    I wish I had more to contribute; all I can think to mention is J. S. Mill's defense/formulation of the LNC as something we learn from experience in forming generic A & ~A beliefs. Like we feel some sort of mental resistance or something, IIRC, when trying to force those beliefs together. And I think some Epicureans thought free will might be microscopic quasi-random particle swerves or something. So empirical/embodied replacements for a priori descriptions have been on offer for many an age? Aug 5 at 19:18
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    If you are looking for the earliest attempt to take mathematics as empirically rooted the honor arguably goes to Epicureans, see Aristidiou, Epicurean Critique of Mathematics. In modern times, Mill was undoubtedly the most famous, see Kitcher, Arithmetic for the Millian, but it was a common position among 19th century mathematicians, see e.g. Kronecker on positive integers "as matter in natural sciences".
    – Conifold
    Aug 6 at 20:47

1 Answer 1


Thirty-Second Overview of Embodied Cognition as a Philosophical Theory

George Lakoff and the cognitive semanticists as well as embodied cognition might find it's clearest, most popular expression in Philosophy in the Flesh (1999), though there are others such as Shapiro's Embodied Cognition (2019) which more recently articulate more technical theories. From Lakoff and Johnson's work:

This book asks: What would happen if we started with [cognitive science and it's empirical discoveries] and constructed philosophy anew? The answer is that an empirically responsible philosophy would require our culture to abandon some of its deepest philosophical assumptions. p.3

He goes on the next page to offer a host of claims that many philosophers find objectionable:

  • Reason is embodied
  • Reason is a product of evolution
  • Reason is not "universal" in the transcendent sense
  • Reason is not completely conscious, but mostly unconscious
  • Reason is not purely literal
  • Reason is emotionally engaged
  • There is no Cartesian dualistic person
  • There exists no Kantian autonomous person
  • The utilitarian person does not exist
  • The phenomenological person is a fiction
  • There is no postructuralist person
  • There is no Fregean position
  • There is no computational person
  • There is no Chomskyan person
  • A priori philosophizing provides no privileged direct access
  • Answers to philsoophical questions are inherently based on conceptual metaphor
  • Irrefutable facts of the mind introduced by cognitive science are part and parcel of the philosophy of mind

As you can see, that's quite an attack on a broad range of philosophical positions and for some might smack of scientism! Considering that many philosophers are folk scientists and are skeptical of a naturalized epistemology as being philosophy at all, it's little wonder that the position was once considered fringe. These days, there are important movements in philosophy of mind that undergird philosophically popular positions based on cognitive science and physical computation. One very recent publication is Shea's defense of teleosemantics-based (SEP) representational theory of mind (SEP). This sort of stuff is cutting edge science as well as philosophy. From Shea's work:

Ever since the 'cognitive revolution' gave the behavioural sciences the idea of mental representation, one phenomenon after another has succumbed to representational explanation... The recent successes of cognitive science depend on the same insight, while also telling us how representations are realized in the brain, a kind of understanding until recently thought to be fanciful.

Why "Fringe" at All?

The question proper might be best conceived from a Kuhnian framework in that embodied cognition is quite a paradigmatic shift. Lakoff's philosophical stance builds or advanced a number of recent developments in philosophy in the 20th century, but takes a middle-of-the-road approach in a number of debates.

None of this should come as a surprise as much of the philosophy of mind comes from 21st century cognitive science which exalts a naturalized epistemology and philosophy of language that goes into demarcating embodied cognition comes from contemporary, upstart philosophical movements.

What are some of the consequences of the position?

  • The position essentially sees God as a linguistic construct, just another essentially contested idea and sees cognitive science as the primary epistemological tool.
  • The entire Aristotelian and Platonic foundation of Western philosophy is misguided with it's focus on philosophical entities and properties where as conceptual realities are not directly realistic, but rather are closer to being understood by process philosophy (SEP).
  • All major philosophical theories are reducible to linguistic frameworks of conceptual metaphors, and therefore are derivative from cognitive linguistic activities.


You asked why is the position so late in coming? Well, George Lakoff and many of his peers reject the foundation of Western philosophy and the notion of the transcendent and objective completely, and instead favor a science-heavy philosophy of mind somewhere between solipism and eliminative materialism. They not only seek to displace Descartes's "theater of the mind" but also reject Ryle's "category mistake" since they reject monism and dualism and instead posit neural computation as a bridge between mind and body metaphysically by relying heavily on neural correlates of consciousness to draw philosophical conclusions. To reject theology and most of the assumptions of the Western tradition of philosophy going back to the Ancient Greeks is bound to meet resistance, no? One more quote from Philosophy in the Flesh:

We are philosophical animals... The question is clear. Do you choose empirical responsibility or a priori philosophical assumptions? ...We are promoting a dialogue between philosophy and cognitive science. p.551

[Disembodied reason, radical freedom, and objective morality] is assumed in much of Western religion... This view of the person also lies behind the traditional European distinction between the natural sciences and the humanities... [However,] the traditional Western view of the person is, as we have seen, at odds on every point with the fundamental results from neuroscience and cognitive science.

In essence, much of the last 2,500 years of religion and philosophy is wrong! And that sort of claim provokes a lot of disagreement, the sort that Max Planck remarked on in science when relativism and quantum physics was overturning Newtonian physics:

“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” ― Max Planck, Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers

  • If you have any questions on the his corpus, create a room and tag me. My primary reading load is in cognitive science, philosophy of language, and embodied cognition.
    – J D
    Aug 5 at 18:06
  • I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your answer! I feel like it accurately portrays the stakes and what methods change accordingly if we adopt his theses, like cognitive semantics. Would you say Chomsky was first to attempt “directly naturalize” much of cognition, albeit with a focus on language with things like generative grammar (so really it was Chomsky who was first more than Lakoff).
    – J Kusin
    Aug 5 at 18:47
  • Absolutely. The language model is a conjecture of evolutionary psychology in a time when behaviorism and psychoanalysis were still dominant themes in psychological practice. Noam comes along and says we have a UG, and it correlates to genes.
    – J D
    Aug 5 at 21:38
  • Yes, Lakoff started a Chomskyan, but was part of the opposite faction in the linguistic wars. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistics_wars?wprov=sfla1
    – J D
    Aug 5 at 21:40
  • "Eventually, generative semantics spawned an alternative linguistic paradigm, known as cognitive linguistics, which attempts to correlate the understanding of language with the concepts of cognitive psychology, such as memory, perception and categorization."
    – J D
    Aug 5 at 21:40

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