Publication details [#9548]

Ryan, Leah. 2005. Review of George Lakoff: 'Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think'. Second Edition. Cognitive Linguistics 16 (4) : 753–758.


The system of concepts we use in thinking about the world consists of metaphors and categories that are, for the most part, unconscious. This is true in many realms of life, from emotions to how we conceptualize morality and politics. As a cognitive scientist, George Lakoff offers a cognitive analysis of the political system in the United States and the conceptual systems of conservatives and liberals in his book 'Moral Politics' by using metaphor to explain those conceptual systems. In American politics, there are two central models with very different conceptual systems of morality: liberals and conservatives. What unifies the concepts of morality of both these central political models is the metaphor of the Nation-as-a-Family. The nation is conceived of as a family, with the government as parent and the citizens as its children. While we know that the government is not literally a parent that tucks its citizens' children into bed and reads them bedtime stories, the government, like a parent, has responsibilities toward its citizens and authority over them. Conservatives and liberals disagree as to what sort of family the nation is and have two separate models of morality that correspond to their concepts of the family. Conservatism derives from what Lakoff describes as Strict Father morality and liberalism derives from Nurturant Parent morality, both of which conceptualize the nation as a different sort of family. While there are many variations of conservatism and liberalism, all the variations bear a systematic relationship to the central model. What gives human beings the power of abstract reason is what is called conceptualizing capacity, which allows us to correlate symbolic structures with everyday experiences and to project metaphorically from structures in the physical domain to structures in the abstract domain (p. 281). It is this conceptualizing capacity and metaphor that allows us to understand an abstract concept like morality. (Leah Ryan)