Reasoning in Politics

This reference will hopefully help some, or perhaps just me, in understanding how worldviews work.  The post will give jargon from cognitive linguistics to help us understand how we reason politically and in general.  I find it helpful when listening to debates.

A bad habit of mine is that I must understand something in and out before I do anything with it.  Most freethought bloggers are way ahead of me and have always been political.  My family says that I am “obsessed with ideas that don’t go anywhere”.  Ouch!

Freethought blogs already “gets” morality, which is, in part, about bullying the bullies.  This of course is not a smart way to frame what we do since conservatives will exclaim “hypocrite” as if to find a chink in the armor.  Maybe they should try to “get” frames.

Frames in Politics

According to cognitive linguistics, ninety-five percent of our thoughts are unconscious, and we reason mainly by way of “conceptual metaphors, embodied primitives, frames, and integration” [3].  This part is on frames which is how the mind organizes information and is how we make sense out of our world.  The definition below is helpful in understanding what frames are and what they do.

A frame (schema) is a mental structure of preconceived ideas, a framework representing some aspect of the world, and a system of organizing and perceiving new facts.   [6]

There is no universal logic or reason because each worldview has its own frames with its own logic.  Deep frames are thought to be present at birth or acquired at an early age [2.1] and can make us appear stubborn.  Since conservatives have different frames than liberals, then disagreement and conflict are inevitable.  If we want to understand ourselves and others, then we need to get frames.

Frames: are ways of making sense out of facts by giving them a role to play as if they were a “cast of characters” [3].

  • Example:  The words doctor and nurse call upon the “hospital” frame and is meant to give meaning and roles to these facts.

Deep Frames: are frames that are embedded with ideas and emotion and are how our worldviews are stored [3], (i).

  • Example: We should exercise “tough love” and that all people can “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps”, and if they can’t be self-reliant, then let them fall behind because it’s survival of the fittest.  This doesn’t fit my frames.

Common Sense: is stored as deep frames and is made up of unconscious inferences that we use in an effortless way [3].

  • Example: It is only common sense that the way a child learns to be self-reliant and self-disciplined is by being obedient to authority and denying pleasures in life that tempt them.  This sort of makes sense, but I don’t like it and feel dissonance.

Narrative: is a special case of the frame idea that is used when we reason about people and types of people.

  • Example: The narrative of the single black parent on welfare makes us believe that they are always struggling, lazy, and cheating the system.  This idea fits the deep frames of conservatives well but doesn’t ring true for me.

Facts: facts can exist as words, phrases, or beliefs and are defined relative to a conceptual frame.

  • Example: The phrase “doubled to left” can only be understood if we have the frame of baseball in mind.

Categorizing in Politics

Another way that we reason is with prototypes which are used when we want to represent categories in a practical way.  Prototypes also allow us to make further inferences, which is how real reason works, by way of intuitive inference.  More specifically, a prototype is a way to represent conceptual categories (e.g., liberals) as “cases” when we want to reason a “certain kind of way” [2].

Ideal Case: is the standard in which all others are to be measured against

  • Example: the ideal conservative in which we compare how conservative they are to the ideal

Central Case:  a category that allows us to extend a category, making it “radial”, to account for variation

  • Example: the central model of “mother” extends to give variation: birth mother model, the genetic mother model, etc.

Typical Case:  the usual case and draws inferences about category members in general

  • Example: When someone says the word “hawk”, we will think of the prototypical hawk and not the atypical.

Stereotypical Case: is when non-reflective conclusions are made on an entire category and identified as “typical”

  • Example: this results in an oversimplification and becomes the “essence” of something, examples abound

Essential Case: is when something must have a certain kind of thing to make it that kind of thing.

  • Example: If we label someone as “ugly” or “dumb”, then this could make us think that is what defines them (iii).

Pathological Case: a variation on a central case, by way of caricature or stereotype, that subverts the model

    • Example: By saying that all conservatives are “fascists” or that all liberals are “bleeding hearts”.

Anti-Ideal Case: this is the case when we demonize one another’s worldviews

  • Example: When we create division and hate by labeling the opposition in a way that makes them the enemy.

Salient Exempler: is a memorable example and used to make conclusions about what is typical for a member of a category

  • Example: This is when we find a single case of a welfare cheater that is used to conclude that all welfare recipients cheat.

Bi-Conceptualizers (Next Post)

This idea that some of us are bi-conceptualizers and have both modes of thought (worldviews) stored in our minds [3] is the gateway into the next post.  This seems to undermine the idea that personality is what gives us preferences to our worldview.


i). Deep frames don’t change easily since our minds favor facts that fit and make sense to our deep frames.  Debates, for example, only reinforce our frames, and rarely change them since we discard the facts from the other side that don’t fit [1].

ii) Different frames include the precise conceptual frame, conceptual metaphor, and the cultural narrative.  Primitives are what gives structure to our “visual perception, motor action, and mental images, and they are used in the semantics of natural language” [2.1].

iii) This is interesting because psychology tells us that shame can be triggered by using global words – that is, words that make us feel in an all-encompassing way.  But we reason by way of making conceptual categories, which makes stereotyping natural.


[1] Kling, Arnold. The Three Languages of Politics: Talking Across the Political Divides. Cato Institute.

[2.1] Lakoff, George.  Explaining Embodied Cognition Results.  Topics in Cognitive Science.

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

[3] Lakoff, George. The ALL NEW Don’t Think of an Elephant! . Chelsea Green Publishing.

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

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

[6] Wikipedia contributors. (2020, December 1). Schema (psychology). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

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