Metaphorically Thinking

This post is part 2 of a series. Click for part 1.

In the first post of this series, we saw how metaphors not only show up in our everyday “literal” language, but how those metaphors help us make sense of the world. Furthermore, according to the Theory of Metaphorical Concepts, metaphors go as deep as structuring our value system.

Our cultural values are largely consistent with the metaphorical concepts we live by. Remember the metaphor Good is up, bad is down? Well here a few other metaphors we associate with the up orientation:

More is better originates from More is up (if good is up, then more must be good);

Bigger is better also originates from More is up; and

The future is better is consistent with The future is up.

Think about these metaphors and where we see them daily. Ever wanted more money? More time? More Facebook friends? Have you ever heard someone say they wanted a bigger TV? A bigger house? How about bigger…well, think plastic surgeon. And I know you’ve all heard political speeches that talk about how great the future is going to be. These values run deep in our cultural zeitgeist.

However, not everything is perfect. Sometimes values will conflict with each other, causing a conflict in our metaphorical construct of those values. In order to avoid conflict and misunderstanding, there is a hierarchy that gives specific metaphors priority over others.

The above examples are metaphors consistent with the More is up metaphor. Usually, we associate More is up and Good is up (as demonstrated). But can you think of anything going up as being a bad thing?

How about when we say the national debt is going up, or the crime rate is rising, or that tensions are high? We don’t perceive any of these notions as being particularly good. This is an indication that we give the More is up metaphor priority over the Good is up metaphor when they don’t reinforce each other.

Mainstream cultures share the same general values; but different subcultures assign different priorities to those values. Think hippies and politicians of the 1970s; they were part of the same mainstream culture, but were different subcultures that gave different values priority. And different people may even have unique priorities given their personal values.

So what metaphors do you see surfacing in your personal values?

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About Nathan Doneen

I'm currently a mid-20s post college grad trying to find my own niche in the world. I studied biology and environmental science when in school and have since started studying philosophy and theory of mind while trying to write in the midst of it all.

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  1. Metaphorically Speaking | Scintillate - April 2, 2014

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