Pensive Ponderings

Reflections on things that matter.

How Common is Sense?

I have heard it said that “common sense is only common to those whom it is common.”  It seems the prevalent mode of thinking now that there is no such thing as “common sense.”  I have literally seen people twitch with agitation on at the mention of such a flawed concept.  At first, I could see where they were coming from.  It’s ridiculous to assume that all people know a similar set of things and that they must all abide by them.  Where did they come by this “common” understanding?  I, for one, know that whatever handbooks and manuals they were passing out in the hospital baby room never made it to me. 

But what exactly is common sense?  I believe everyone can agree that it is not a common set of precepts that everyone knows.  Has common sense been made synonymous with “human nature” or “conscience” somehow?  Those to concepts are also currently under fire in our Universalist post-modern world.  Universal truth is questioned, and therefore every universal concept is undermined as well.  Who is to say “all humans” do or say this or that?  And doesn’t a conscience imply that there is a definite standard of “right” or “wrong?”  Likewise with common sense, right? 

Yes and no.  Yes, the concept of common sense presupposes something common, but not in the same way as conscience or human nature.  We take the two words together so often that we seldom remember that their joint meaning is derived from the words’ separate meanings.  The word common means “belonging equally to, or shared alike by, two or more or all in question.”  The word sense means “any of the faculties, as sight, hearing, smell, taste, or touch, by which humans and animals perceive stimuli originating from outside or inside the body,” as well as “a faculty or function of the mind analogous to sensation.”

Man has been dubbed the “rational animal,” making reason the common trait grouping all of mankind together while simultaneously excluding all other animal groups.  The “common sense” then, being any sense we share in common, is reason itself.  It is possible to argue that not all people share the same set of judgments.   It should be conceded, however, that there is, indeed “common sense.”  Sight is a common sense.  Do all have it?  No, but they display the functional traits.  Blind people are not a new species, they are simply missing a portion of their function;  we would call them vision-impaired.  Reason is also a common sense, and I believe it is the common sense appealed to by those who invoke it.  Common sense is not a list of right answers, but a formulaic equation.  Common sense is not the lesson taught, but the ability to learn.  I submit that “common sense” has been unjustly devalued, and that there is a sense exclusively (so far as we have discovered) common to Homo sapiens, and that sense is -reason. 

Arguments could follow this one that asserts that the definition of “human nature” is also unjustly discarded for intellectual thought because of its spiritual-esque nature.  The presence of a doctrine for human nature in religions cannot negate the concept of a nature exclusively human in the academic world.  We have yet to discover any other species of animal or plant that has higher rational functions.  Reason, then, is by definition, a distinctly human trait, and therefore, a part of “human nature”.  I believe the human nature argument primarily stems from behavioral arguments, though.  Now all that remains is a claim for or against absolute truth.  What is a claim, anyway? 

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