Common sense: Wikis


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Common sense (or, when used attributively as an adjective, commonsense, common-sense, or commonsensical), based on a strict construction of the term, consists of what people in common would agree on: that which they "sense" as their common natural understanding.[citation needed] Some people (such as the authors of Merriam-Webster Online) use the phrase to refer to beliefs or propositions that — in their opinion — most people would consider prudent and of sound judgment, without reliance on esoteric knowledge or study or research, but based upon what they see as knowledge held by people "in common". Thus "common sense" (in this view) equates to the knowledge and experience which most people allegedly have, or which the person using the term believes that they do or should have.

Whatever definition one uses, identifying particular items of knowledge as "common sense" becomes difficult. Philosophers may choose to avoid using the phrase when using precise language. But common sense remains a perennial topic in epistemology and many philosophers make wide use of the concept or at least refer to it. Some related concepts include intuitions, pre-theoretic belief, ordinary language, the frame problem, foundational beliefs, good sense, endoxa, and axioms.

Common-sense ideas tend to relate to events within human experience (such as good will), and thus appear commensurate with human scale. Humans lack any commonsense intuition of, for example, the behavior of the universe at subatomic distances; or speeds approaching that of light. Often ideas that may be considered to be true by common sense are in fact false.


In philosophy


Aristotle and Ibn Sina

According to Aristotle and Ibn Sina (Avicenna), the common sense is an actual power of inner sensation (as opposed to the external five senses) whereby the various objects of the external senses (color for sight, sound for hearing, etc) are united and judged,[1] such that what one senses by this sense is the substance (or existing thing) in which the various attributes inhere (so, for example, a sheep is able to sense a wolf, not just the color of its fur, the sound of its howl, its odor, and other sensible attributes.) It was not, unlike later developments, considered to be on the level of rationality, which properly did not exist in the lower animals, but only in man; this irrational character was because animals not possessing rationality nevertheless required the use of the common sense in order to sense, for example, the difference between this or that thing, and not merely the pleasure and pain of various disparate sensations.[2] This also contributes to the understanding held by the Scholastics that when one senses, one senses something, and not just a diversity of sensible phenomena.

Common sense, in this view, differs from later views in that it is concerned with the way one receives sensation, and not with belief, or wisdom held by many; accordingly, it is "common", not in the sense of being shared among individuals, or being a genus of the different external senses, but inasmuch as it is a principle which governs the activity of the external senses.[3]

Locke and the Empiricists

John Locke proposed one meaning of "common sense" in his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. This interpretation builds on phenomenological experience. Each of the senses gives input, and then something integrates the sense-data into a single impression. This something Locke sees as the common sense — the sense of things in common between disparate impressions. It therefore allies with "fancy", and opposes "judgment", or the capacity to divide like things into separates. The French theologian Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet arguably developed this theory a decade before Locke.[4]) Each of the empiricist philosophers approaches the problem of the unification of sense-data in their own way, giving various names to the operation. However, the approaches agree that a sense in the human understanding exists that sees commonality and does the combining: "common sense" has the same meaning.


Appeal to common sense characterises a general epistemological orientation called epistemological particularism (the appellation derives from Roderick Chisholm (1916–1999)). This orientation contrasts with epistemological Methodism. The particularist gathers a list of propositions that seem obvious and unassailable and then requires consistency with this set of propositions as a condition of adequacy for any abstract philosophical theory. (Particularism allows, however, rejection of an entry on the list for inconsistency with other, seemingly more secure, entries.) Epistemological Methodists, on the other hand, begin with a theory of cognition or justification and then apply it to see which of our pre-theoretical beliefs survive. Reid and Moore represent paradigmatic particularists, while Descartes and Hume stand as paradigmatic Methodists. Methodist methodology tends toward skepticism, as the rules for acceptable or rational belief tend to be very restrictive (for instance, Descartes demanded the elimination of doubt; and Hume required the construction of acceptable belief entirely from impressions and ideas).

Particularist methodology, on the other hand, tends toward a kind of conservatism, granting perhaps an undue privilege to beliefs in which we happen to have confidence. One interesting question asks whether epistemological thought can mix the methodologies. In such a case, does it not become problematical to attempt logic, metaphysics and epistemology with the absence of original assumptions stemming from common sense? Particularism, applied to ethics and politics, may seem to simply entrench prejudice and other contingent products of social inculcation (compare cultural determinism). Can one provide a principled distinction between areas of inquiry where reliance on the dictates of common sense seems legitimate (because necessary) and areas where it seems illegitimate (as for example an obstruction to intellectual and practical progress)? A meta-philosophical discussion of common sense may then, indeed, proceed: What is common sense? Supposing that one cannot give a precise characterization of it: does that mean that appeal to common sense remains off-limits in philosophy? What utility does it have to discern whether a belief is a matter of common sense or not? And under what circumstances, if any, might one advocate a view that seems to run contrary to common sense? Should considerations of common sense play any decisive role in philosophy? If not common sense, then could another similar concept (perhaps "intuition") play such a role? In general, does epistemology have "philosophical starting points", and if so, how can one characterize them? Supposing that no beliefs exist which we will willingly hold come what may, do there though exist some we ought to hold more stubbornly at least?

Projects: collecting common sense

See also


  1. ^ Aristotle: De Anima, Book III, Part 2
  2. ^ Thomas Aquinas: Commentary on De Anima, Book II, Chapter 2, Lectio Three
  3. ^ Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologiae, Pars I, Q. 78 A. 4 Ad 1
  4. ^


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

This article refers to a kind of understanding.

For the political tract Common Sense, see Thomas Paine.
For the rapper formerly known as "Common Sense", see Common (rapper).

Common sense, roughly speaking, is what people in common would agree: that which they "sense" in common as their shared natural understanding. Some use the phrase to refer to beliefs or propositions that in their opinion they consider would in most people's experience be prudent and of sound judgment, without dependence upon esoteric knowledge or study or research, but based upon what is believed to be knowledge held by people "in common".


  • Since the world is what it is, it is clear that valid reasoning from sound principles cannot lead to error; but a principle may be so nearly true as to deserve theoretical respect, and yet may lead to practical consequences which we feel to be absurd. There is therefore a justification for common sense in philosophy, but only as showing that our theoretical principles cannot be quite correct so long as their consequences are condemned by an appeal to common sense which we feel to be irresistible. The theorist may retort that common sense is no more infallible than logic. But this retort, though made by Berkeley and Hume, would have been wholly foreign to Locke's intellectual temper.
  • Nothing astonishes men so much as common sense and plain dealing.
  • On dit quelquefois: "Le sens commun est fort rare."
    • People sometimes say: "Common sense is quite rare."
      • Voltaire, "Common Sense," Dictionnaire philosophique portatif (1765)
      • The better known variant of this quote is "Common sense is not so common," said to be in the Dictionnaire philosophique entry "Self-Love"; but it is not found there.
  • Common sense always speaks too late. Common sense is the guy who tells you you ought to have had your brakes relined last week before you smashed a front end this week. Common sense is the Monday morning quarterback who could have won the ball game if he had been on the team. But he never is. He's high up in the stands with a flask on his hip. Common sense is the little man in a grey suit who never makes a mistake in addition. But it's always somebody else's money he's adding up.
  • Le bon sens est la chose du monde la mieux partagée, car chacun pense en être bien pourvu.
    • Translation: "Common sense is the best distributed thing in the world, for we all think we possess a good share of it."
    • René Descartes, Discours de la Méthode (1637)
  • Misprize common sense at your peril is my motto.


  • It is inaccurate to say I hate everything. I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for public office.
  • There are people who are so full of common sense that they haven't the slightest cranny left for their own sense.
  • Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.
  • Common sense is the least common of all senses
    • Attributed to Joel Montes
  • Common sense...Get some!
    • Author Unknown

External links

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Simple English

Simple English Wiktionary has the word meaning for:

Common sense means what people would agree about. It is actually a personal judgement based on the situation and facts.[1] Common sense is sometimes the best guide to what is acceptable by others.



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