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Mark L. Johnson is Knight Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Oregon. He is well-known for contributions to embodied philosophy, cognitive science and cognitive linguistics with George Lakoff, but he has also written extensively on philosophical topics such as John Dewey, Kant and ethics.

In his 1987 book The Body in The Mind he developed a theory of image schema as the basic building blocks in cognitive linguistics for conceptual metaphor, as well as language and abstract reason generally. He argued for a revised version of Kant's notion of the schema as the crucial imaginative link between our concrete perceptions of an object (e.g. my dog Fido) and our experience of categories (the class of things called dogs). However, where Kant wanted schemata to serve as a bridge between the empirical and logical (or phenomenal and noumenal) worlds, Johnson maintained that image schema are regularly recurring embodied patterns of experience that are acquired during the course of early child development. Such schemata are image-like in that they are analogic neural activation patterns which preserve the topological contours of perceptual experience as a cohesive whole. Thus they are images in a sense similar to how Kosslyn showed the rotation of Shepard and Metzler-like mental images preserves the visual contours of the 2D picture of the 3D object. However, image schemata are not restricted to visual modality and can be kinesthetic, auditory and cross-modal as well.

Johnson argues that his and Lakoff's recent research on the role of such bodily schemas in cognition and language shows the ways in which aesthetic aspects of experience structure every dimension of our experience and understanding. In his interpretation of John Dewey, he claims that all our abstract conceptualization and reasoning, all our thought and language -- all our symbolic expression and interaction -- are tied intimately to our embodiment and to the pervasive aesthetic characteristics of all experience.


  • Metaphors We Live By (co-authored with George Lakoff), University of Chicago, 1980.
  • Philosophical Perspectives on Metaphor, University of Minnesota, 1981.
  • The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason, University of Chicago, 1987.
  • Moral Imagination: Implications of Cognitive Science for Ethics, University of Chicago, 1993.
  • Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought, (co-authored with George Lakoff), Basic Books, 1999.
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