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Review of  Multiple Analogies in Science and Philosophy

Reviewer: Madalena Cruz-Ferreira
Book Title: Multiple Analogies in Science and Philosophy
Book Author: Cameron Shelley
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Cognitive Science
Issue Number: 15.701

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Date: Thu, 26 Feb 2004 08:46:12 +0800
From: Madalena Cruz-Ferreira
Subject: Multiple Analogies in Science and Philosophy

AUTHOR: Shelley, Cameron
TITLE: Multiple Analogies in Science and Philosophy
SERIES: Human Cognitive Processing 11
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2003

Madalena Cruz-Ferreira, National University of Singapore


This book, derived from Shelley's doctoral dissertation,
proposes a first unified account of analogy by means of a
formally constrained model that treats single analogy as a
special case of multiple analogy.

Chapter 1, "The problem of multiple analogies", gives a
preliminary layout of the theoretical framework from within
which the analysis of analogy will be approached, including
purpose, methodology, and reasons for the choice to focus
on uses of analogy taken from biology, archaeology and
philosophy. The use of key terms is clarified, e.g., the
terms "analog", which refers to both the source and the
target of an analogy, and "multiple analogy", an analogy in
which "_more than one source analog_ is used to reason
about a target analog" (pp.3-4). Analogy, taken as a
structured comparison between specific items, is
distinguished from induction, which involves
generalisations from observation of specific items. This
importance of this distinction lies in that taking multiple
analogy as several single analogies is erroneous, because
it assumes that "all analogies are inductions" (p.6), a
view that has been found untenable in recent research.
Analogies are "based on comparisons between causal
relationships in which the items in an analogy participate"
(p.6), making causality, not universal generalisation,
centrally relevant to analogical reasoning.

The chapter also introduces discussion of modern theories
of analogy, which can be labelled "shared-structure
theories" in that they focus on the mappings, or "alignment
of corresponding parts" (p.7), of hierarchical causal
relationships shared between source and target analog. The
rules and constraints of the mapping procedure are

Chapter 2, "Multiple analogies and 'old fourlegs'",
presents the chosen analytical framework, the
Multiconstraint theory of analogy (MT), one version of
shared-structure theory. Being a constrained theory that
allows application to both single and multiple analogies,
the MT appears as ideally suited to our understanding of
the undeniably vital contribution of analogy to scientific
thinking. In the MT, analogy involves alignment of
conceptual structures "in a table of predicates of
increasing abstractness" (p.17). The horizontal alignment
of predicates with their arguments gives the relationship
between source and target analog, whereas the vertical
dimension accounts for a (causal) explanation that
legitimises the analogy.

The chapter discusses the application of the MT first to
single analogies, and then its extension to multiple
analogies. Examples are taken mostly from evolutionary
biology, particularly the claims surrounding the Coelacanth
'living fossil', with a view to systematising the rationale
behind legitimate mappings between source and target
analog, as well as the criteria for analytical coherence.

The next three chapters, "Multiple analogies from the
Mesozoic", "Multiple analogies in archaeology", "Multiple
analogies in Plato's _Republic_", discuss the uses of
analogy in specific areas of biology, archaeology and
philosophy, respectively. These areas are chosen precisely
because analogy has played a major role in the development
of knowledge pertaining to each. A generalised account of
multiple analogies is progressively outlined, with rich
discussion of particular emblematic examples in each area,
all illustrated with tables detailing the horizontal and
vertical steps and correspondences that establish the

Chapter 6, "Modelling multiple analogies", presents
Shelley's proposed model, building on observations and
conclusions gleaned from the preceding, more expository
chapters. Shelly discusses "criteria that a _general_
theory of analogy should satisfy" (p.113), and argues for a
model which "places much emphasis on purpose and planning
for the generation and understanding of multiple analogies"
(p.119). The planning involved in the construction of an
analogy naturally serves the purpose of that analogy. The
model incorporates a visual and a verbal buffer, accounting
for the central role played by visual/graphical imagery
("imagery augmented with a pencil and paper", p.50) and by
language, particularly narrative modes (one way of coding
"mental movies", p.121), in the cognitive process of
analogical inference. The chapter's concluding remarks
provide a concise summary of the whole book.

An Appendix, "Historical review", gives a brief
presentation of treatments of analogy among Western
thinkers, from Plato to contemporary theorisation, with
Aristotle's and J.S. Mill's accounts described as the first
examples of a model of analogy, and of an explicitly
constrained model of analogy, respectively. Shelley's
discussion groups analogy theories into three types,
shared-abstraction, shared-attribute and shared-structure,
and focuses on the theoretical treatment of multiple


Analogy is central to everyday reasoning about everyday
happenings, as well as to our attempts at interpreting and
often predicting the latter. Being a comfortable part of
our household cognitive skills, we hardly realise the
extent to which it shapes our thought. It is by analogy
with last week's schedule that we plan next week's diary
entries, as it is by analogy with our human ways of being
and thinking that we conceive of life and intelligence
beyond our species and our planet. Analogy is a stepping-
stone to approaching puzzles and making them ours, by
bringing them to a level that makes us understand them. In
this role of providing a bridge from a source analog (what
is known to us) to a target analog (what we want to know),
analogy is a product of our reluctance to live with
unexplained phenomena, and "clearly valuable in scientific
thinking" (p.12). Often there is no other way to interpret
evidence, particularly in research areas that involve
reconstruction of the past, whether in archaeology or
linguistics. Given that providing reliable explanations for
puzzling observations is the domain of science and of
philosophy, and given the thought processes that are common
to both, the scene is set for the analysis of knowledge
garnered by means of analogy.

Shelley takes apart several well-established analogies and
puts back together, into one unified model, what makes
these analogies legitimate, or persuasive. By providing
insight of this kind into the workings of our mind, and
into what exactly we select, along the reasoning process,
to make an analogy gain the sense we want it to make, the
topic of this book will appeal to a broad readership, not
only among biologists, archaeologists, philosophers and
scientists in general, but to anyone interested in the
cognitive mechanisms of acquiring knowledge.

Predictably, chapter 6 is the densest in the book, in that
modelling is a complex task both in the accuracy of the
proposed representation and in the fecundity of its
workings. The task is of course not made easier by the fact
that a model is, arguably, itself an analogy. Nevertheless,
the text is overall clear and fluent, and Shelley's claims
are convincingly argued. The text is also clearly
signposted. All chapters begin with a preview of their
contents, close with a summary, and contain several tables
spelling out the mechanisms involved in particular
analogies that are detailed in the text. The style manages
to combine precision with appeal, and the book at times
reads like an entertaining mystery novel. One example is
the report on the reasoning that led to the interpretation
of the function of clay figurine legs found in prehistoric
Greek sites, given in chapter 4.

The book's appeal to the non-initiated suggests a comment
about its index, that could be put to better use in future
reprints or editions. As it stands, the purpose of the
index, which includes subjects and authors, is unclear. For
some reason (modesty?) Shelley's own name is absent from
it, though quoted _passim_ in the text. The page numbers
given for several technical terms do not always list all
occurrences of these terms, nor their first or major
occurrence -- if 'major' is indeed a criterion for index
entry, its rationale should be given. Other terms, that are
central to the discussion and whose indexing would
therefore facilitate navigation of the text, include
'causality', 'predicate', 'argument', 'narrative', and
'false analogy'. The latter, for example, refers to p.82,
where its mention in turn simply directs the reader to one
of Shelley's own work's that presumably provides definition
and/or discussion of the term.

Shelley's model of analogy is formal, matching current
trends in cognitive science and related research areas that
assume their objects as formal objects, and therefore
amenable to formalisation. Formal models typically need
primitives, from where inquiry into their objects can
proceed. But the model also encompasses the purpose and the
planning that presides over the use of analogies. Shelley's
discussion makes it clear that the purpose of analogies is
that of resolving the issue that made resource to them
necessary in the first place, whereas planning involves a
series of measures whose collective use satisfies that
purpose. In other words, the primitives of the analogy
itself will vary according to purpose, be it explaining a
chain of events, or the function of a physical feature.

By highlighting that form cannot be independent from
whoever is doing the formalising, Shelley's model
effectively (and sensibly) incorporates the human factor in
it. This point recurs along the book, particularly
concerning the "different ways in which multiple analogies
may serve _cognitive goals_" (p.32, emphasis added, MCF).
Analogies, like assumptions, are inevitably bound by the
historical, geographical, social and other factors that
make up a scientific paradigm, in Kuhn's (1970) sense of
this term. They provide a way of reading knowledge in order
to gain more knowledge, both drawing on the paradigm and in
turn feeding it. This is so because analogies do not just
help provide plausible explanations, they must conform to a
body of acquired knowledge. For example, it is _plausible_
to conclude, on the basis of anatomical analogy, that
having two arms is consistent with the hypothesis that
human beings once could fly. But such a hypothesis
contradicts what we _know_ about flight, that appears to
have evolved from terrestrial gait, not preceded it.

Scientists, like all human beings, are nurtured by family,
friends and fellow scientists in their set of beliefs. It
is this set of beliefs that defines what can constitute a
_finding_ that furthers our knowledge within particular
areas of research. As Shelley puts it, the fecundity of a
scientific practice is gauged by "its ability to lead to
large numbers of _true beliefs_ for many practitioners"
(p.60, emphasis added, MCF), and must therefore depend on
nurturing. Since a nurtured paradigm identifies what can be
asked about a puzzle but, more importantly, what cannot or
need not be asked for a given purpose, questions about the
puzzle that might provide alternative explanations are left
unanswered and unanswerable, because they are irrelevant
for that particular purpose. For example, the accepted
construal of the split Greek figurine legs as two-part
pledges, by analogy with eg, the tearing in two of pieces
of textile or paper as proof of an economic transaction to
be kept by each party (pp.71ff.), satisfies the question
about their function, but says nothing about their form:
why legs, and why women's legs? The analogical focus
directed at function that _explains away_ the figurine legs
as split tokens also means focus diverted from the form of
the object, barring the search for whatever significance
might be attached to it.

Analogy ultimately depends on interpretation and
argumentation, i.e., on what we humans think the observable
can teach us about the unobservable. Since cognition is
necessarily an individual process, and since individuals
themselves obviously have preferences in their ways of
approaching knowledge, Shelley's model can be interpreted
not so much as a model of analogy as a model of analogical
'reasonings' (with this word deliberately pluralized, MCF),
that contemplates a multidimensional view of cognition.

The quantification inherent in the workings of multiple
analogies point to a view of cognitive qualification, or
categorisation, as an additive property of analogy, where
the only limit seems to be one of "cognitive fatigue"
(p.54). Shelley argues that quantity does not increase
confidence in the analogy, nor therefore in the acceptance
of its authors' choice to use it. Legitimate source analogs
are independent from one another, and do their work on
their own, due to a source rejection specification such
that "the acceptance of one analog would tend to suppress
any consideration of its close relatives" (p.116). That is,
similar sources cannot do the same type of analogical work.
On the other hand, a constraint on Shelley's proposed model
allows the mapping of predicate arguments according to the
similarity of their roles, not of their form. This is true
of analogical causality, in that predicates like "in-order-
that" and "because" are equivalent: though the order of
their arguments is reversed, they both relate an antecedent
to a consequent. An analogy that correlates the two is
deemed "completely acceptable" (p.17). That is, different
predicates can be made to do the same type of analogical
work. This apparent contradiction is the result of
modifying one constraint of the model, by generalising its
formulation. This legitimises the analysis by making it
flawless, a condition to which formal thinking aspires. The
issue is discussed by Shelley, who concludes that problems
such as these belong with the MT itself, not with the
specific analogies used by scientists.

The interplay of what is (dis)allowed in analogising, in
terms of legitimate equivalence, is what gives a measure of
analogical coherence, in which causality plays a central
role. Coherence lies not only in how well the analogy
satisfies internal consistency, i.e., the constraints of
analogical reasoning, but is also "a holistic property of
the context in which the analogy occurs" (p.18), judged by
its good match to "other things that are known or believed
by the analogizer" (p.19). This is true of the good matches
provided by causality predicates. In addition, the role of
analogical causality is not so much that of establishing
relationships among conceptual constructs, and thereby
organising thought, as that "its mere presence serves to
increase likelihood" (p.150). The cumulative interplay
among source analogs appears indeed to result in the
equating of the 'is like' of analogical comparison with the
'is' of identity, in fact removing the distancing
comparative connector: the source 'is' a token of a
particular type, and so 'is' the target.

Given that analogies themselves, and even metaphors, can
serve as source analogs (p.26), the one-time target analog
is now in turn ready to be used as a source, regardless of
any fragility in its own construal as a target. Is it in
this sense that knowledge is _transmitted_. Wright Mills
(1967:405) noted the point, stating that we "live in
second-hand worlds" and arguing that "experience itself is
selected by stereotyped meanings and shaped by ready-made
interpretations". Transmission of knowledge proceeds by
means of intellectual "memes" (Dawkins' 1976 term), that
are offered as ready-made products, with no questions asked
about their own sources. Other individuals drink from the
new source, and build knowledge upon the results of the
inferences that it may afford.

But knowledge must also be appropriated, if it is to play
any useful role. Like cognition, appropriation is an
individual endeavour, and the resulting knowledge can only
be served (i.e., propagated) after proper digestion (i.e.,
assimilation). The assimilation of knowledge is facilitated
in different ways, depending on the greater or lesser
appeal of the analogy itself. Vision, for example, is a
very strong cognitive mediator, and its central role in
everyday cognitive processes is duly incorporated as a
visual buffer in Shelley's proposed model. Visual
substitution, in the form of analogical aids like drawings,
not only lies at the core of modelling reality, it besides
engages our ability to infer a process from still-image
representations. One example from the science of language
that comes to mind is the familiar theorisation about
language features as processes, or movement, aided by
diagrammatic representations of linguistic structure, that
draw precisely on the primacy of visual input among our

The equally pivotal role of language itself in the process
of making sense of the world also finds its rightful place
in Shelley's modelling of a verbal buffer. Not simply
because all human beings have language, but because
knowledge is useless if we cannot talk about it. Again, the
individual takes central stage, in that there are
persuasive users of language, and there are less skilled

Throughout the systematic analysis of different examples of
analogy, the book gives a fascinating account of the power
of language in shaping knowledge and, ultimately, in
shaping thought. We are treated to the _art_ of
constructing knowledge, within the "unended quest" (Popper
1974/1992) that science itself is. We learn, for example,
that the reason why the familiar beast Triceratops has
horns is that their use was presumed through analogical
correlations with the headgear of modern hoofed mammals.
This and other examples show that analogies are "flesh[ed]
out" (p.37) in various ways, in order to produce the
desired results. Ie, the reason is not _known_, but becomes
_knowledge_ by means of analogical argumentation. In
addition, if several things, not just one, are shown to be
like something else by means of multiple analogies, the
familiar effect that transforms quantitative information
into qualitative knowledge takes place. The features of
each source analog need not be mapped onto the target
analog according to similar criteria of, say, form or
function. The analytical tables that Shelley provides for
several examples of multiple analogies show gaps in
reasoning as blanks along the vertical dimension of each
table. These gaps are filled by implication (e.g., p.100ff.),
that results from the cumulative effect of the horizontal
mappings of source analogs, regardless of the type and
location of their own gaps in reasoning. The parallel
interplay of the different sources forces the individual to
fill these gaps, completing whatever absent information
they may stand for. Put another way, the gaps are
effectively disregarded, because their relevance becomes
lost among the sheer quantity of source analogs. Disregard
is a cognitive process that shares many similarities with
cognitive normalisation processes well-known since Bruner
and Postman (1949), who showed that an inbuilt property of
human cognitive processes forces the perception of
incongruous stimuli as well-formed members of expected
categories. As in the barring of possible questions,
discussed above, the act of disregarding thus stands out as
the crucial step in scientific thought that it in fact is.
It is in this sense that knowledge is _constructed_ from

Shelley's purpose of modelling analogy is aptly fulfilled.
The discussion that supports the proposed model besides
raises the interesting question of the extent to which
particular analogies, and the knowledge that they serve,
are themselves scientific, or a tool of propaganda of
"scientific belief" (Kuhn 1970:4), a phrase that is
oxymoronic only in appearance.

Being in more than one sense a manipulation, within what is
allowed to count as knowledge, analogies form a clever
exercise in spin-doctoring that favours the keepers of
paradigmatic knowledge. It is then up to the subscribers to
alternative paradigms to deconstruct the analogy, and
expose the gaps that betray a disanalogy, an inference that
lacks coherent foundation. Disanalogies clearly "serve the
purposes of one's professional critics" (p.31). Given that
analogising appears to be a universal trait of human
cognition, conflict must arise from the professional (and
social) goals to which particular analogies are found more
suitable. Choices among these surface in the lack of a
unified discourse, or a unified theory, that gives the
appearance of disagreement about knowledge, instead of
disagreement about the way to talk about knowledge. This is
why the physical world, say, can be explained by Newtonian,
Einsteinian and quantum theories. This is also why
subscribers to different paradigms often perpetuate one
another's views as incompatible, in obedience to the
ethical dictum "help your friends and hurt your enemies"
(p.30 & _passim_), instead of part and parcel of the
knowledge-gathering process.


Bruner, J. S. and L. Postman (1949). "On the perception of
incongruity: a paradigm." Journal of Personality 18: 206-

Dawkins, R. (1976). The selfish gene. Oxford, Oxford
University Press.

Kuhn, T. S. (1970). The structure of scientific
revolutions. 2nd edition. Chicago, University of Chicago

Popper, K. (1974/1992). Unended quest. An intellectual
autobiography. London, Routledge.

Wright Mills, C. (1967). The cultural apparatus. In I. L.
Horowitz, Ed. Power, politics and people: the collected
essays of C. Wright Mills. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Madalena Cruz-Ferreira teaches linguistics at the National
University of Singapore. Her research interests include
prosody, child bilingualism and theory of science.