Schematic of Reason

[This is my interpretation of the work of George Lakoff from UC Berkeley and Hugo Mercier from the Jean Nicod Institute in Paris.]

To understand an ideology we need to break down its mode of thought.  This mode of thought is not formal logic but rather a series of metaphors that have a central theme that is adhered to that gives it its coherence.  Mechanistically, we all reason the same, by way of intuitive inference, but we do vary in the preference and priority that we give to certain types of reasoning.

The mode of thought that an ideology engages in can be broken down and understood with the help of cognitive linguistics, which is a multidisciplinary approach to understanding human language and cognition.  This post will look at the mechanics behind real reason and claims that reason is mostly post-hoc and metaphorical.  In the end, we will introduce the ideology of conservatism.

Post-Hoc Reasoning

We reason by seeking reasons to justify our beliefs and actions in order to persuade others [10].  This is known as a post-hoc rationalization, which means that we have an intuition first and then support it with reasons.  There exist two kinds of reasoning which is either an explanation or argument but both have a similar structure and only vary in how they relate to their reasons.

We may, for example, feel that it is unfair to let the free-market determine the minimum wage, and then we seek reasons to justify government interference in the market.  In the process of doing so, we are making claims on what is right and wrong, which makes this kind of reasoning a form of moral reasoning.  In fact, most reasoning is a kind of moral reasoning.

  • intuition: feeling a sense of compassion for those that struggle when earning substandard wages
  • justification: Government must establish a minimum wage because we can’t rely on the imperfect market.
  • covertness: Notice that the real reason, which is having compassion, is left out because it is considered irrational.

Conceptual Categories

To understand the mechanism of reason, we have to turn to cognitive science which says that we only understand things in light of what we already know.  In order to do this, our mind creates conceptual categories that are nothing more than metaphors.  These categories have inferential capacity in that they allow us to draw inferences that aid in our understanding of our reality [7].

Primary metaphors are cross-domain mappings, pings, from a source domain (the sensorimotor domain) to a target domain (the domain of subjective experience), preserving inference and sometimes preserving lexical representation. [7]

The quote above is saying that we have a rudimentary intuition about something in the physical domain and then map it to a higher domain with our language.  Take for example the metaphor of “going over your head”, which is a physical experience that is mapped to the target of “failing to understand” something.  Our language is replete with examples of us understanding our reality in this way.

Conservativism as Metaphor

The style of reasoning that conservativism uses is similar to the style we use towards raising a family.  Not surprisingly, conservativism resembles a strict-father upbringing while liberalism resembles a nurturant-parent upbringing.  We can think of each style of raising families as a unique mode of thought that consists of various complex metaphors that have different priorities.

The theme of ‘strict-family’ for conservatives is what drives its logic by prioritizing the various metaphorical concepts.  For example, conservatives place moral strength, which addresses self-discipline and success, at the highest priority, while morality as nurturance is at the lowest priority.  We will explain the details of George Lakoff’s model of conservativism below in the next post.

  1. MORAL STRENGTH: This defines self-discipline as characterized by the family model and extends it to morality.
  2. MORAL AUTHORITY: This builds on parental authority in the central model and extends it to morality generally.
  3. MORAL ORDER: This legitimizes the Strict Father’s authority, and defines what counts as “natural” and hence legitimate.
  4. MORAL BOUNDARIES: This allows us to apply spatial reasoning to moral structures.
  5. MORAL ESSENCE: This spells out an important part of what is meant by “character” in the family model.
  6. MORAL WHOLENESS: This provides a way to conceptualize the importance of unity, sameness, and stability of morality.
  7. MORAL PURITY: This provides us with a way to conceptualize immorality as portrayed in the family model.
  8. MORAL HEALTH: This allows us to conceptualize the effects of immorality as portrayed in the family model.
  9. MORAL SELF-INTEREST: This provides the crucial link between self-discipline and self-reliance in the family model.
  10. MORALITY AS NURTURANCE: This links nurturance in the family model to helping others in society in general.


[1] Ariely, Dan. Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition. HarperCollins e-books.

[2] Barrett, Lisa Feldman. How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain. HMH Books.

[3] Burton, Robert Alan. On Being Certain. St. Martin’s Publishing Group.

[4] Damasio, Antonio R.. Descartes’ Error. Penguin Publishing Group.

[5] Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

[6] Lakoff, George. Moral Politics. University of Chicago Press.

[7] Lakoff, George. Philosophy In The Flesh.

[8] Lakoff, George. The Political Mind. Penguin Publishing Group.

[9] Lakoff, George. Your Brain’s Politics. Societas.

[10] Mercier, Hugo. The Enigma of Reason. Harvard University Press.

[11] Smith, Justin E. H.. Irrationality. Princeton University Press.

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