Forms and Uses of Argument

Transdisciplinary Aspects of Figurative Language: from Aesthetics to Neuroscience

by Stefano Calabrese (Volume editor) Annamaria Contini (Volume editor)
©2022 Edited Collection 134 Pages


This volume is the result of transdisciplinary studies conducted by professors and researchers of the Department of Education and Human Sciences at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia. It cross-applies neuro-scientific, aesthetic, linguistic and rhetorical methods to focus on the concept of argumentation, much studied during the 20th century and then forsaken. The common thread that links the essays is the concept of figurative language intended as an argumentative tool, while throughout the 20th century it was believed that in every field of human knowledge formal approaches should prevail: only the form, it was thought, constitutes the purest essence, the “net weight” of things. In contrast to this, “Forms and Uses of Argument” intend to demonstrate that the figurative language - and first of all the metaphors – are in fact rather an archetypal “propellant” for the most widespread argumentative logics.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface
  • CHAPTER 1 Emotions as argumentative programmers (Stefano Calabrese)
  • CHAPTER 2 Metaphor and narrative reconfiguration. An example in the French physiology of the late nineteen century (Annamaria Contini)
  • CHAPTER 3 “I know but I can’t explain it”: a starting point for the development of argumentation abilities in prospective primary teacher education (Valentina Bianchi, Maria Elena Favilla, and Michela Maschietto)
  • CHAPTER 4 The argumentative and rhetorical function of metonymy in an epidemic/pandemic context (Valentina Conti)
  • CHAPTER 5 Ivor Armstrong Richards and Max Black on metaphor: comparing modes of argumentation (Alice Giuliani)
  • CHAPTER 6 Using metaphor as an argumentative tool in patients’ narratives (Jennifer Moreno)
  • Series Index

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This volume is the result of transdisciplinary studies carried out by professors and researchers working at the Department of Education and Human Sciences of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia (except for Valentina Bianchi from the University for Foreigners of Siena, and Jennifer Moreno, from the Universitat Jaume I and Visiting Scholar at the Department mentioned above) cross-applying neuro-scientific, aesthetic, linguistic and rhetorical methods to focus on the concept of argumentation, much studied during the twentieth century and then forsaken. Since the common thread that links many interventions is figurative language – particularly metaphor – as an argumentative tool, the general theory is that formal approaches have prevailed in every field of human knowledge to the detriment of the processes that the mind performs to create them. Indeed, formal analyses have generated powerful tools for society to interpret the world – from quantitative analysis to statistical-based predictive models – leading us to believe that form is the purest essence, the “net weight” of things.

In truth, as documented by the contributions in this volume, the complexity of the neuro-cognitive processes based on the concepts of Identity, Integration, and Imagination has cast doubt even on the “primary” concept of identity (A = B), now replaced by conceptual blending – already theorized by that argumentation treatise that was The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind’s Hidden Complexities (2002) by Gilles Fauconnier and Marc Turner – and perfectly embodied by metaphor and metonymy. “Conceptual blending” is an argumentative strategy that leads to the co-activation of two mental spaces (input spaces) that project some of their constituent elements to map a third hybrid space (blended space) that selects the most advantageous elements of each, creating – thanks to them – a completely new and emerging structure of meaning, which does not coincide with any of the starting inputs.

This is how conceptual and argumentative models underlining everyday thought and imagination emerge, where – let it be understood – the whole process of blending is non-conscious: a complex and in-depth exploration work is needed to highlight the structure underlying the meanings that arise from the integration process, which holds the formidable power to give us genuine acknowledgments. All this is clear in Stefano Calabrese’s contributions (dedicated to the role of argumentative predictor covered by Pathosformeln and iconemi), Annamaria Contini (dedicated to the theoretical-modeling power of metaphor ←7 | 8→through the contribution of philosophers and scholars of the second half of the twentieth century), Valentina Bianchi, Maria Elena Favilla, Michela Maschietto (dedicated to the argumentative strategies that primary school teachers must face), Valentina Conti (focused on metonymic logic as an explanatory model of infections in the medical area), Alice Giuliani (who worked on the fundamental topic of the twentieth-century theories of metaphor), and finally Jennifer Moreno (who studies the metaphorological differences in the stories told by the sick as an argumentative tool to better deal with suffering).

Stefano Calabrese, Annamaria Contini

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Stefano Calabrese
Università degli studi di Modena e Reggio Emilia

Chapter 1 Emotions as argumentative programmers

Abstract: At the beginning of the twentieth century the scientific community used the tools available to them at the time to thoroughly investigate those permanent recurring and transcultural elements that were variously called “motivemi” (by narratologists), archetypes (by psychoanalysts), or Pathosformeln, as Aby Warburg defined them. This contribution redefines the concept of unconscious memory or mneme in Warburgian thought and the medical-scientific roots of many of his reflections, before moving on to the contributions that neuroscience, since the end of the twentieth century, has made to redefining the way in which man conventionally represents emotions. Today, the architecture of the limbic brain detected through neuroimaging allows us not only to offer a more analytical explanation of Warburg’s intuitions, partly through a computational rereading offered by Franco Moretti, but also to redesign the grammar of emotions and their global semiotics.

Keywords: Emotions, Pathosformel, Memetics, Limbic system, Pathosformel.

1. The point about emotions

As is well known, emotions play an essential role for humans and the socio-environmental context as they reveal crucial information about the world and survival in it. In a book of unparalleled intelligence, The Vehement Passions (2003), Philip Fisher argued that emotions constitute involuntary reactions in contexts in which they are linked to the survival instinct, and as such, in their functional and expressive plurality, they are modeled on the two primary states of fear (able to induce avoidance behaviors, for example when faced with a predator) and anger (able to induce approaching behaviors, for example when faced with prey or an attack), “isolated states, independent and public” to the extent that they are expressed immediately and without a volitional act that precedes them. These are two emotions rooted in the most archaic sections of the brain, namely the right hemisphere, responsible for receiving negative emotions. We are in the midbrain, formed far back in time, meaning that the vehement passions of our existence make us go through neuro-chemical circuits formed over millennia.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2023 (February)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 134 pp., 1 fig. b/w, 8 tables.

Biographical notes

Stefano Calabrese (Volume editor) Annamaria Contini (Volume editor)

Stefano Calabrese is full professor of Comparative Litarature at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia. He specializes in both eastern and western literary texts and life narratives by applying neurocognitive methods and reasearch results. Annamaria Contini is full professor of Aesthetics at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia. Her research focuses on theories of metaphor, philosophical schools of modernity and iconic language.


Title: Forms and Uses of Argument
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136 pages