The Late Great History of Common Sense
One of the greatest expressions of self-love is common sense. It is through the act of wise self-love, that we seek to be more efficient, effective, precise, productive, and more self-aware.
Today, there seems to be less common sense around than ever before. You’ve heard of the “Dark Ages?” We may look back in a few decades and call these times we are living in the “Darker Ages”.
As basic as the idea may seem, “common sense” is less common than ever before.
The term common sense actually has at least two specifically philosophical meanings. Aristotle spoke of the capability of the animal soul (Greek psukhē) — which includes humans — to use different individual senses to process sense-perceptions, memories, and imagination in order to collectively perceive the characteristics of physical things such as movement and size, which all physical things have in different combinations. This would allow humans and other animals to distinguish and identify physical things in order to reach many types of basic judgments. In Aristotle’s scheme, only humans have real reasoned thinking (noein), which takes them beyond their common sense.
All these meanings of “common sense”, including the everyday one, are inter-connected in a complex history and have evolved during important political, philosophical, and religious debates in modern 21st-century civilization. The interplay between the meanings has come to be particularly notable in English, as opposed to other western European languages, and it is the English term “common sense” that has become internationally understood to mean what it does today.
The discussion of what or what is not common sense spans across a diverse range of disciplines including social science, and especially economics. The question of “Moral sense*” and “ethical sense” as opposed to “rationality” is a never-ending one, and has required greater inquiry in the age of Trump. It will require even greater inquiry in the days to come.
Often when I discuss a concept or idea with my students or in a gathering of the Wisdom Path Community — a Group of practical philosophers I host on Facebook, I will often hear someone say to me that something seems “obvious” or is “common sense.” The fact that this is being said at all tells me that this individual doesn’t really understand what “common sense” is.
Much of my writing recently, has been about common sense; what might be best described as the elementary mental fitness of the normal human being.” Of course the word “normal” used in this context immediately presents us with challenges since the question immediately arises. “What is normal?”
For many of us, common sense is nothing more than the basic ability to, perceive, intuit, integrate, understand, and judge things, which are shared by (“common to”) nearly all people and can reasonably be expected of nearly all people without any need for debate. This is a concept throughout my teachings which we refer to as “living in a self-created socially and emotionally balanced “functional reality”.
The takeaway here is that clearly, many people lack common sense which is a mystery to those who have convinced themselves that they have an abundance of it. The challenge is that if we study history we soon learn that the very definition of common sense has shifted and changed since the ancient Greeks first began writing and discussing the subject.
To explore more of these ideas and some of my longer pieces on common sense and applied game theory please visit my website and sign up for my free newsletter.
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