ArgLab • Colloquium

Francesca Ervas

Visual metaphor, argument evaluation, and the epistemic feeling of rationality

Verbal metaphor has been considered a condensed and implicit argument guiding the audience along a path of inferences to a conclusion, which attributes to the target some properties of the source (Macagno & Zavatta, 2014 ; Oswald & Rihs, 2014 ; Wagemans, 2016). Metaphor is also a framing device with an “ignorance-preserving” trait (Arfini et al. 2018) : some relevant properties of the source are selected to understand the target, while other properties remain ignored, seriously affecting reasoning (Thibodeau & Borodisky 2011, 2013; Semino et al. 2016; Burgers et al. 2016). However, a verbal metaphor might elicit a creative and productive style of reasoning in arguments’ evaluation, forcing the audience to find an alternative interpretation of the premises that guarantees a conclusion (Ervas et al. 2015, 2018).


It is less clear the relationship between reasoning and visual metaphor, where metaphor is conveyed (completely or partially) pictorially (Forceville 2008; Pérez Sobrino 2017). Also visual metaphor has been described as a condensed and implicit argument (Tseronis & Forceville 2017), which directs the audience’s attention towards certain visual properties, possibly leading to risky inferences (Knauff & Johnson-Laird 2002). There are three main problems to consider visual metaphor as a condensed and implicit argument: 1) understanding whether there are two conceptual domains; 2) understanding the directionality of the metaphor; 3) understanding the attributed properties. However, visual metaphor might elicit a creative and productive style of reasoning precisely in the process of solving these problems. I propose that a “sentiment of (ir)rationality” (James 1879) or a noetic feeling of (ir)rationality (Dokic 2012) guides reasoning via visual metaphors by tracking a disruption of existing familiar conceptualizations of objects and/or actions and a recovery of ignored properties.


Francesca Ervas, University of Cagliari