Metaphor and analogy

(Methodos VII)

Marc Jacquinet


Metaphors and analogies have played an important –and foundational– role in science as well as in literature.  Many authors have already stressed this importance, such as Perelman, Black, Hesse, Ricoeur, and Louçã, and I will not repeat them (Perelman 1968, Black 1962, Hesse 1966, Ricoeur 1975, Perelman 1979/1998, Ricoeur 1983, Perelman 1989/1997, 1992/1996, Louçã 1997b).  I just want to stress some aspects of the metaphor.

First, an essential feature of the metaphor is its creativity by transfer of mean and creation of new meanings in diverse areas of knowledge. Here lies the foundational nature of the metaphor, usually opening new fields or disciplines and extending the borderlines of the present disciplines, namely in economics (Louçã 1997b).

Second, following Perelman (1979 and 1992), I will name analogy the generic term that include metaphors.  Relatively to the object of the metaphor, I will not follow Black that stresses “entities” rather than their relationship, like did Chaïm Perelman.  This is a consequence of adopting an ontology of processes and organizations and not entities with fixed attributes like the Aristotelian metaphysics (Perelman 1992/1996, Bickhard and Campbell 1996).

Third, there is a real danger with analogies.  This is the lack of rigor in its treatment. They might not be adequate for the object of study that we are studying.  This means that they might offer too little a similitude in the mechanisms or structure that cannot enlighten relevantly the phenomenon that is under study. That is what Piaser focus when defending the guarantee of the quality of the structural homology between the discourse (where the analogy comes from) and the reality (the phenomenon that we want to explain and that constitutes the destination of the analogy); that is to say, an epistemology of analogy has to be endeavoured (Piaser, 1994: p xxx).  The analogy must lead to an abstract explanation of the phenomena under interest with the use of diverse schemes of causality: causality proper, process and structure and function that evolve from strong to weak causality or determinism.

            Finally, What is the specificity of the historical process of technological innovation in the long duration?[1]  Is the concept of history in economics relevant for studying technological innovation?  What history are we construing in the social sciences?  Does the concept of history imply in turn a particular conception of time in economics.  What notions of time are we referring to?  If the evolutionary focuses are fashionable and with the wind in its sails, how are these evolutionary theories related to the notion of history in economics?  Is there any coherence in all that?  I will try to give some answers to these questions. I give some hints in the following and in the subsequent sections.

An essential difference, without entering in metaphysical discussions, is the cognitive dimension, as well as the organization of knowledge, like Brian Loasby and G. Hodgson (have recently insisted upon (Loasby 1991, 1999, Hodgson 1999a, 1999b, Loasby 2001b).  In a similar vein, W. Dolfsma (Dolfsma 2001) insists on the peculiar features of knowledge that do not fit easily in the straight jacket that is epitomized by the notion of human capital (as in Gary Becker’s works) or intellectual capital (in the literature in business economics, and being generally an excessively broad and open concept that assembles a wide array of dissimilar elements, left aside as unquestioned black boxes).

[1] See the references at the end of the project and in particular Bairoch (1997 and 1999), Braudel (1979), Elias (1991), Freeman (1995), Freeman and Louçã (2001).

(Part of this text is based on my PhD research and thesis)

Cite this article as: {Jacquinet, Marc}, Metaphor and analogy,"{Management Critique}," in {}, 21/11/2019,

Marc Jacquinet

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