Thinking of Others
On the Talent for Metaphor
In Thinking of Others, Ted Cohen argues that the ability to imagine oneself as another person is an indispensable human capacity--as essential to moral awareness as it is to literary appreciation--and that this talent for identification is the same as the talent for metaphor. To be able to see oneself as someone else, whether the someone else is a real person or a fictional character, is to exercise the ability to deal with metaphor and other figurative language. The underlying faculty, Cohen argues, is the same--simply the ability to think of one thing as another when it plainly is not.
In an engaging style, Cohen explores this idea by examining various occasions for identifying with others, including reading fiction, enjoying sports, making moral arguments, estimating one's future self, and imagining how one appears to others. Using many literary examples, Cohen argues that we can engage with fictional characters just as intensely as we do with real people, and he looks at some of the ways literature itself takes up the question of interpersonal identification and understanding.
An original meditation on the necessity of imagination to moral and aesthetic life, Thinking of Others is an important contribution to philosophy and literary theory.
Ted Cohen is a professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago and the author of Jokes: Philosophical Thoughts on Joking Matters.