Why are Liberals and Conservatives so far apart on many issues, seemingly unable to come to any common viewpoint through discussion? Some neurological explanations have been put forward, such as that Conservatives tend to have a larger amygdala in the brain – which makes them more sensitive to feelings of fear and disgust. However this alone does not seem to account for the predictability of peoples positions, whether Conservative or Liberal on a wide range of social, political and religious issues.
George Lakoff, is a cognitive linguist and professor of cognitive sciences who has proposed a thesis that we live our lives by Metaphor. Many of the metaphors we have in common, however there are some that are different between the two groups – particularly in metaphors for morality :
According to Lakoff the Conservative metaphor for moraility is Moral Strength :
- Being Good is Being Upright
- Being Bad is Being Low
Examples include sentences like: He’s an upstanding citizen. He’s on the up and up. That was a low thing to do. He’s underhanded. He’s a snake in the grass. Doing evil is therefore moving from a position of morality (uprightness) to a position of immorality (being low). Hence,
- Doing Evil is Falling.
The most famous example, of course, is the fall from grace. A major part of the Moral Strength metaphor has to do with the conception of immorality, or evil. Evil is reified as a force, either internal or external, that can make you fall, that is, commit immoral acts.
- Evil is a Force (either Internal or External)
Thus, to remain upright, one must be strong enough to “stand up to evil.” Hence, morality is conceptualized as strength, as having the “moral fibre” or “backbone” to resist evil.
- Morality is Strength
But people are not simply born strong. Moral strength must be built. Just as in building physical strength, where self-discipline and self-denial (“no pain, no gain”) are crucial, so moral strength is also built through self-discipline and self-denial, in two ways:
- Through sufficient self-discipline to meet one’s responsibilities and face existing hardships;
- Actively through self-denial and further self-discipline.
The Liberal metaphors for morality are given as :
Morality as Empathy: Empathy itself is understood metaphorically as feeling what another person feels. We can see this in the language of empathy: I know what it’s like to be in your shoes. I know how you feel. I feel for you. To conceptualize moral action as empathic action is more than just abiding by the Golden Rule, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The Golden Rule does not take into account that others may have different values than you do. Taking morality as empathy requires basing your actions on their values, not yours. This requires a reformulation of the Golden Rule:
Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.
Morality as Nurturance: Nurturance presupposes empathy. A child is helpless and to care for a child, you have to care about that child, which requires seeing the world through the child’s eyes as much as possible. The metaphor of Morality as Nurturance can be stated as follows:
- The Community is a Family
- Moral agents are Nurturing parents
- People needing help are Children needing care
- Moral action is Nurturance
This metaphor entails that moral action requires empathy, involves sacrifices, and that helping people who need help is a moral responsibility.
Moral Self-Nurturance: You can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself. Part of the morality of nurturance is self-nurturance: maintaining your health, making a living, and so on.
Morality as Social Nurturance: There are two varieties of moral nurturance — one about individuals and the other about social relations. If community members are to empathize with one another and help one another, then social ties must be maintained. The metaphor can be stated as follows:
- Moral agents are Nurturing Parents
- Social ties are Children needing care
- Moral Action is the Nurturance of Social Ties
This entails that social ties must be constantly attended to, that maintaining them requires sacrifices, and that one has a moral responsibility to maintain them.
Morality as Happiness: This is based on the assumption that unhappy people are less likely to be empathetic and nurturant, since they will not want others to be happier than they are. Therefore, to promote your own capacity for empathy and nurturance, you should make yourself as happy as possible, provided you don’t hurt others in the process.
Morality as Fairness: Fairness is understood metaphorically in terms of the distribution of material objects. There are three basic liberal models of fair distribution:
- equal distribution;
- impartial rule-based distribution; and
- rights-based distribution.
Metaphorical fairness concerns actions conceived of as objects given to individuals. One can act to the benefit of others equally, impartially and by rule, or according to some notion of rights. According to this metaphor, moral action is fair action in one of these ways.
Moral Growth: Given that morality is conceptualized as uprightness, it is natural to conceptualize one’s degree of morality as physical height, to understand norms for the degree of moral action as height norms, and to therefore see the possibility for “moral growth” as akin to physical growth. Where moral growth differs from physical growth is that moral growth is seen as being possible throughout one’s lifetime,