Project description

Description of the problem to be solved

The project aims to answer the question of what and how the ancient Greeks of the early Roman imperial period (1st/2nd c. CE) thought about functioning of the human mind. The reconstruction of their conceptualization of human cognitive abilities is crucial for our understanding of their mentality, and, by extension, the organization of their social world. Mentality, i.e. a collective thought of a society (Lakoff & Johnson 1999), informs various social phenomena – beliefs, values, theories, practices and institutions – and is reciprocally informed by them. The results of the project will thus give us an insight into the ancient mind caught at a specific historical moment. The imperial period brought many important authors, with Plutarch as one of its most prominent representatives. His immense literary output will serve as our source material for the reconstruction of the imperial Greek mentality. Based on a single author of a highly diverse body of texts, we will obtain a vast and simultaneously coherent picture of the ancient mind in action.

These research goals will be achieved by the application of methods of cognitive linguistics which are still a novelty in historical analyses. Relying on the conceptual theory of metaphor (CTM) we will examine metaphors related to cognition in the corpus of Plutarch’s Moralia and Lives. Cognition is here an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of mental activities including: learning, acquiring knowledge, understanding, memorizing, forgetting, and the like (hereafter referred to as “categories of thinking” or CTh). The project will identify the metaphorical linguistic expressions in these writings and will survey how the CTh were described and conceptualized through them. From that kind of linguistic evidence, it will be possible to reconstruct popular cognitive models (hereafter “folk models”) that capture how people’s perception and thoughts influence the way they feel and behave in a specific cultural environment of a given historical period.

A reconstruction of the full spectrum of conceptual metaphors of cognition in Plutarchan texts will allow us to generate a “cognitive map” of ancient perceptions of the human mind and its implications for social life. In cognitive studies it is presupposed that stable preferences for certain metaphors of cognition may reveal underpinnings of various social constructs (such as e.g. conception of childhood, family structure or mental illness) and institutions (e.g. education system, perception of moral responsibility or political constitution). In addition to standard philological methods, we will adopt the heuristic approach of cognitive history which synthesizes the methods and tools of historical research and theories of cognitive science to explain and understand human behavior, communication, and thinking in the past (Dunér & Ahlberger 2019). Our historical research will be conducted using ideas that have arisen within cognitive linguistics.

The project is based on the conceptual theory of metaphor (CTM) as defined by Lakoff and Johnson’s (1980, 1999) and later developed by Kövecses (2005, 2015) and Semino (2008) among others. According to CTM, metaphors allow for understanding and experiencing one kind thing in terms of another (Lakoff and Johnson 1980:5). For instance, our preliminary research indicates that Plutarch conceptualizes the idea of superstition as a drag-net in which its followers are bound together. The association thus draws from the domain of fishing to illustrate the lack of freedom of thought in the case of mistaken beliefs.

In the project, the study of folk epistemology and models of mental activity aims to explore how the view of the nature of human cognitive processes is reflected in the organization of the Greek imperial society. How one understands human cognitive abilities (e.g. who can have certain knowledge, what kinds of knowledge there are, how it is acquired), interplays with the social organization of a community. It is crucial for the perception of the role of various social groups and institutions such as the family (here, in particular, it is important to ascertain how the mental abilities of women, children, or slaves are conceptualized), education (how the transfer of knowledge and cultural values is organized, who can be a teacher and who can be a student) or political institutions (how the system of power and authority is distributed with regard to the cognitive abilities of the members of society).

Research questions

  1. Conceptual Patterns related to Cognition: What kinds of categories of thinking are distinguished by Plutarch? Which domains do the metaphors conceptualizing the categories of thinking originate from?
  2. Consistency as a base for idealized cognitive models: Is the Plutarch’s metaphoric system cohesive and consistent? Does any mental activity, state or process related to cognition share a metaphor with other mental activities, states or processes?
  3. Originality vs. Conventionality: Which metaphors are recurrent and which are unique to Plutarch? Were some metaphors taken from earlier philosophers? Which metaphors seem to be conventional and which seem to be creative?
  4. Purposes and Functions: How does Plutarch’s metaphors of cognition realize representational and heuristic language functions? What are the social, pragmatic, rhetorical and aesthetic functions of Plutarch’s metaphors of cognition? Why do particular metaphorical domains dominate, whereas others are less represented?
  5. Between the Human Mind and the Surrounding Historical World: What can the conceptual systems represented in Plutarch’s writings tell us about the nature of human beings as endowed with an unobservable mental life? What can the conceptual systems represented in Plutarch’s writings reveal about the material culture and everyday life of his times? What is the nature and direction of the interaction between mentality and socio-cultural environment in Plutarch’s writings? What can the conceptual systems represented in Plutarch’s writings tell us about the social and cultural models (beliefs, values, theories, practices, activities, institutions) of his times? Is the mental realm similarly conceptualized in Plutarch’s writings as it is today: is there a sharp division between body and mind, and is there a division between the cognitive part, which is active, and the emotional part, which is passive? Which metaphors are recurrent and which are unique to Plutarch? Were some metaphors taken from earlier philosophers? Which metaphors seem to be conventional and which seem to be creative?

Concept and work plan

The plan for achieving the project’s objectives is based on a two-pronged strategy: i) the creation of a suitable database of metaphors from Plutarch’s Corpus (Part 1), ii) research on particular ICMs related to cognition and the folk epistemology emerging from Plutarch’s writings (Parts 2-4).

Part 1. Plutarchan corpus of metaphors of cognition. The creation of the database of conceptual metaphors in Plutarch’s writings will consist of i) considerations on Plutarch’s conceptualization of CTh, ii) development of a framework for identification and description of conceptual metaphors of cognition, iii) development of appropriate metadata tags and annotation procedures of individual instances of metaphors of cognition, and iv) collection and annotation of the corpus and computer facilitated analysis to identify frequency of metaphorical expressions of a given type. Qualitative and quantitative analyses will be carried out on the corpus of metaphors thus prepared, with the function of providing material for analyses related to the implementation of Parts 2-4

Part 2. Conceptual metaphors of cognition in the database. This part of research will consist in exploring
the conceptual metaphors of cognition that can be found in Plutarch’s writings and in reconstructing the ICMs emerging from them. The research will include: i) theoretical investigations delimiting the criteria that permit the identification of an expression as an example of conceptual metaphor, ii) close reading of samples of texts with the aim of identifying candidates for metaphors and their evaluation in relation to the criteria for the established definition of conceptual metaphor. The result of the conducted work will be a typology of cognitive abilities distinguished by Plutarch and a reconstruction of the ICMs associated with them.

Part 3. Cognitive and pragmatic dimensions of the Plutarch’s conceptual metaphors of cognition. Plutarch’s system of metaphors for cognition is partly shaped by the philosophical influences of Platonism, Aristotelianism, and Stoicism. The purpose of this part of the research will therefore be to identify the philosophical origins of Plutarch’s conceptual metaphors of cognition and to establish the extent of Plutarch’s originality in thinking about human cognitive abilities. These findings are also expected to answer the question to what extent the metaphors in Plutarch serve other functions than representational or cognitive: in particular discursive, pragmatic or aesthetic.

Part 4. Socio-cultural dimension of the Plutarchan conceptual metaphors of cognition. This stage of the
research has two objectives. The first is related to the study of conceptualization of source domains from which Plutarch draws metaphorical expressions. The task will be to describe those elements of the life of the ancients that serve as the basis for Plutarch’s conceptual metaphors. The second objective here is to find out whether or not the established metaphorical patterns of thought influenced how ancient subjects thought and acted in a society. Our analysis will imply discussion of the discerned thinking patterns in the context of such social phenomena as family, education and political organization to see how they are conditioned and motivated by the folk concept of mind that emerges from Plutarch’s writings.
Results of preliminary research. The preliminary research included both the study of an individual conceptual metaphor in a broader cultural context and a short corpus study of three Moralia texts. The results of the first one have been published by the PI as an article in the periodical Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies (Doroszewska 2019). The corpus study brought a handful of observations on how reason is conceptualized by Plutarch as a ruler or animal trainer of other cognitive abilities and how knowledge acquisition is understood as a production of objects by craftsmen.

Research methodology

Located in the interdisciplinary area of cognitive history, the planned research combines methods of historical inquiries with theories and methods of cognitive science. The methods of cognitive linguistics, especially CTM, will provide a theoretical conceptual framework and analytical tools that will be used to identify conceptual metaphors. Systematic analysis of the vast amount of linguistic material will be aided by methods of corpus linguistics (Deignan 2005, Steen et al. 2010, Stefanowitsch, Gries 2006) and content analysis (Krippendorff 2018). Research on conceptual metaphors related to the CTh will be carried out in two ways: i) the introspective historical-literary approach, and ii) with application of corpus-based approaches. The results of the investigation of cognitive metaphors in Plutarch’s writings will be subsequently used as a material for historical and socio-historical analysis in order to reconstruct cultural models discernible in ancient society’s conceptual systems. The implications of folk epistemology and theory of mind for the functioning of selected social institutions will be juxtaposed with the secondary literature on the analyzed social phenomena.

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