The Enlightenment conception of reason fled from embodiment with its messy emotions and pains and pleasures. Body and mind had been thought to be distinct categories since Plato. But there have now been plenty of successful challenges to this dualism, particularly in the 20th century (by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, the pragmatists William James and John Dewey, and today by many cognitive scientists). We've nonetheless largely inherited the conception of reason as a distinct faculty governed by the laws of logic. It appears in standard liberal political theory, contemporary economics, and many public policy tools when we speak of self-interested, preference-maximizing, rational agents. Lakoff suggests that liberals are still enchanted by what he considers an untenable and archaic dualism, and that there are grave moral and political consequences we liberal sorts ought to get through our heads (or embodied minds?).
Here are some chunks of Lakoff's piece:
Real reason is embodied in two ways. It is physical, in our brain circuitry. And it is based on our bodies as the function in the everyday world, using thought that arises from embodied metaphors. And it is mostly unconscious. False reason sees reason as fully conscious, as literal, disembodied, yet somehow fitting the world directly, and working not via frame-based, metaphorical, narrative and emotional logic, but via the logic of logicians alone.
Empathy is physical, arising from mirror neurons systems tied to emotional circuitry. Self-interest is real as well, and both play their roles in real reason. False reason is supposed to serve material self-interest alone. It’s supposed to answer the question, “What’s in it for me?,”which President Obama assumed that all populists were asking. While Frank Luntz told conservatives to frame health care in terms of the moral concepts of freedom (a “government takeover”) and life (“death panels”), Obama was talking about policy minutia that could not be understood by most people......It is a basic principle of false reason that every human being has the same reason governed by logic — and that if you just tell people the truth, they will reason to the right conclusion. The President kept saying, throughout Tea Party summer, that he would just keep telling the truth about policy details that most people could not make moral sense of. And so he did, to the detriment of all of us...
...Every word is neurally connected to a neural circuit characterizing a frame, which in turn is part of a system of frames linked to a moral system. In political discourse, words activate frames, which in turn activate moral systems. This mechanism is not conscious. It is automatic, and it is acquired through repetition. As the language of conservative morality is repeated, frames are activated repeatedly that in turn activate and strengthen the conservative system of thought — unconsciously and automatically. Thus conservative talk radio and the national conservative messaging system are powerful unconscious forces. They work via principles of real reason.
But many liberals, assuming a false view of reason, think that such a messaging system for ideas they believe in would be illegitimate — doing the things that the conservatives do that they consider underhanded. Appealing honestly to the way people really think is seen as emotional and hence irrational and immoral. Liberals, clinging to false reason, simply resist paying attention to real reason...
...The highest conservative value is preserving and empowering their moral system itself. Medicare is anathema to their moral system — a fundamental insult. It violates free market principles and gives people things they haven’t all earned. It is a system where some people are paying —God forbid! — for the medical care of others. For them, Medicare itself is immoral on a grand scale, a fundamental moral issue far more important than any minor proposal for “modest cost savings.” I’m sorry to report it, but that is how conservatives are making use of real reason, and exploiting the fact that so many liberals think it’s contradictory.