Home Language & Literature
Providing Structure to an Ultimate Purpose
One fundamental assumption that reappears again and again in religious belief, which may in fact reflect an innate feature of human psychology, is that human life has some kind of value and purpose. For many people (although not for all), this concept consciously or unconsciously functions as a bedrock axiom of their existence and provides a foundation for religious beliefs. An illustration of this can be seen in the extract below from a Muslim testimonial.
His watchfulness, his walrus-like physique, his endless voyages after game and markets, reminded me of other predatory hunter-animals of the sea. Such people, good at making money but heedless of any ultimate end or purpose, made an impression on me, and I increasingly began to wonder if men didn’t need principles to guide them and tell them why they were there.
The author had started working on a fishing boat and had come across the captain of another boat that appeared to be obsessed with financial gain. It is the author’s reflection of the perceived incongruity of living without an ultimate end that prompts him to posit the need for people to seek an essential quality that the captain appeared to lack. From that point on in the testimonial, the author concludes that belief in God is necessary and, thus, eventually becomes a Muslim. The move toward religious belief was based on the author’s instinctive response to someone living without purpose, not on a particular argument from evidence. This raises the crucial question of whether something about human psychology', what Rosemont (2015, p. 24) would call a “homoversal”, leads some people to presuppose the necessity' of some sort of higher reality'. This is a highly complex question with many possible answers, but within Cognitive Linguistics, there is an aspect that could act as one of the conceptual building blocks facilitating this intuition: the source-path—goal schema.
Metaphorical mappings are based on various schemas that provide highly abstract organizing frameworks within the human mind. These schemas are preconceptual representations drawn from “schematized patterns of activity abstracted from everyday bodily experience, especially pertaining to vision, space, motion and force” (Langacker, 2008, p. 32). The source—path—goal schema undergirds the human impulse to structure life spatially in terms of where one is now, where one has been, and where one is going. Lakoff and Johnson (1999) propose that this schema has the following elements:
A trajector that moves A source location (the starting point)
A goal, that is, an intended destination of the trajectory A route from the source to the goal The actual trajectory of motion The position of the trajector at a given time The direction of the trajector at that time The actual final location of the trajectory, which may or may not be the intended destination.
They further describe the schema as follows:
Our most fundamental knowledge of motion is characterized by the source-path-goal schema, and this logic is implicit in its structure. Many spatial-relations concepts are defined using this schema and depend for their meaning on its inherent spatial logic, for example, toward, away, through and along.
(Lakoff & Johnson, 1999, p. 34, italics in the original)
Motion is also used to represent construal of abstract concepts as entities moving through space in a specific direction. This construal appears in a wide range of metaphorical language that draws on the journey source domain. It reflects what Turner (1996) refers to as the universal human habit of formulating sequences into “small spatial stories” that “are structured by the image schema of a point moving along a directed path from a source to a goal” (p. 19). This explains why personal stories always “re-present features of the world” while also envisaging “an end” (Cobley, 2014, p. 210). This may also account for religion’s capacity to offer “particularly powerful stories” that are able to so effectively convey “a picture of security, stability and simple answers” (Kinnvall, 2004, p. 742).
The source-path-goal schema and the range of metaphors it underpins not only provide a basis for viewing life as a journey, but also offer one of the crucial foundations for viewing life as a story. The schema also lies at the heart of the propensity to structure life as consisting of purposes and goals and to metaphorically view those purposes as locations that need to be reached. The schema thereby grounds foundational existential questions that occur so often in religious discourse, such as: Why am I here? Where is my life going? Who or what should I follow? Where will I go when I die? This suggests that beliefs grounded on a teleological orientation derive to some extent from fundamental features of human psycholog)' One of the deep-seated roles of movement metaphors in religious language is to allow believers, whether they are aware of it or not, to extend and elaborate on this abstract schematic structuring.