The Personal Website of Mark W. Dawson

Containing His Articles, Observations, Thoughts, Meanderings,
and some would say Wisdom (and some would say not).

Common Sense

Throughout my Chirps and Articles, I have mentioned applying common sense, but common sense can lead you astray. What most people mean by “Common Sense” is common knowledge and sensible responses. But common knowledge may not be so common amongst many people, or sensible responses may differ among reasonable people.

Common Sense also has the problems of circular reasoning, social influences, uncommon sense, and various other sociological problems, as well as improper “Reasoning”. A very good book that explains these problems, and the problems of utilizing common sense, is “Everything Is Obvious – How Common Sense Fails Us” by Duncan J. Watts.

Common knowledge is not so common as each person has a different breadth and depth of knowledge. The knowledge, education, and experience of each person differ. As such, each person may reach a different conclusion from another person. This does not necessarily make someone wrong if they disagree with you. Most often, if you politely discuss the disagreement, you may often come to a common agreement, or modify your or the others' opinion, or simply agree to disagree. But you should always keep in mind that you may be wrong, and be open to change your conclusion.

Sensible responses are different amongst people, as each person has their own priorities and judgments of the importance of an issue. Sometimes people place more importance on their personal goals, while others may place more importance on social goals. And even within the goals, there are different priorities. They weigh the criteria to determine the sensible response, with each person putting different weights on each criterion, and then have a sensible response based on their criteria, which may (and possibly will) be different than another person’s response. Until you discuss the criteria and weights you cannot know the reason for the other person’s response. Therefore, do not be quick to judge another’s response as it may be perfectly reasonable from the perspective of the other person. Again, politely discussing the response will help you better understand the other person.

Common sense is most appropriate in our social interactions with each other. We grow up and learn how to treat each other (such as politeness and common courtesies) within our cultural norms. This is one of the best purposes of common sense, and indeed we could not function as a society without this type of common sense. So, what do I mean by common sense?

My personal usage of common sense is to utilize human nature, our cultural norms, obtain as much knowledge on my own as reasonable, pay attention to the knowledge, education, experience, reasoning, and criteria of others (especially those that I may disagree with), and apply formal and informal logic to reach my own conclusions. I also allow for the possibility that I may be wrong and try to determine the consequences of my being right or wrong, to reach what I consider a reasonable conclusion. It is on this basis that I have written these observations.