On the one hand, the approach of Descartes is and was seen as radically sceptical in some ways. On the other hand, like the Scholastics before him, while being cautious of common sense, Descartes was instead seen to rely too much on undemonstrable metaphysical assumptions in order to justify his method, especially in its separation of mind and body with the sensus communis linking them. Cartesians such as Henricus Regius , Geraud de Cordemoy , and Nicolas Malebranche realized that Descartes's logic could give no evidence of the "external world" at all, meaning it had to be taken on faith.
The alternative to induction, deductive reasoning, demanded a mathematical approach, starting from simple and certain assumptions. This in turn required Descartes and later rationalists such as Kant to assume the existence of innate or " a priori " knowledge in the human mind—a controversial proposal. In contrast to the rationalists, the " empiricists " took their orientation from Francis Bacon , whose arguments for methodical science were earlier than those of Descartes, and less directed towards mathematics and certainty.
Bacon is known for his doctrine of the " idols of the mind ", presented in his Novum Organum , and in his Essays described normal human thinking as biased towards believing in lies. So while agreeing upon the need to help common sense with a methodical approach, he also insisted that starting from common sense, including especially common sense perceptions, was acceptable and correct.
He influenced Locke and Pierre Bayle , in their critique of metaphysics, and in Voltaire "introduced him as the "father" of the scientific method " to a French audience, an understanding that was widespread by As mentioned above, in terms of the more general epistemological implications of common sense, modern philosophy came to use the term common sense like Descartes, abandoning Aristotle's theory.
While Descartes had distanced himself from it, John Locke abandoned it more openly, while still maintaining the idea of "common sensibles" that are perceived. But then George Berkeley abandoned both. In his synthesis, which he saw as the first Baconian analysis of man something the lesser known Vico had claimed earlier , common sense is entirely built up from shared experience and shared innate emotions, and therefore it is indeed imperfect as a basis for any attempt to know the truth or to make the best decision.
But he defended the possibility of science without absolute certainty, and consistently described common sense as giving a valid answer to the challenge of extreme skepticism. Concerning such sceptics, he wrote:. But would these prejudiced reasoners reflect a moment, there are many obvious instances and arguments, sufficient to undeceive them, and make them enlarge their maxims and principles.
Do they not see the vast variety of inclinations and pursuits among our species; where each man seems fully satisfied with his own course of life, and would esteem it the greatest unhappiness to be confined to that of his neighbour? Do they not feel in themselves, that what pleases at one time, displeases at another, by the change of inclination; and that it is not in their power, by their utmost efforts, to recall that taste or appetite, which formerly bestowed charms on what now appears indifferent or disagreeable?
Once Thomas Hobbes and Spinoza had applied Cartesian approaches to political philosophy , concerns about the inhumanity of the deductive approach of Descartes increased. With this in mind, Shaftesbury and, much less known at the time, Giambattista Vico , both presented new arguments for the importance of the Roman understanding of common sense, in what is now often referred to, after Hans-Georg Gadamer , as a humanist interpretation of the term.
One ethical concern was the deliberately simplified method that treated human communities as made up of selfish independent individuals methodological individualism , ignoring the sense of community that the Romans understood as part of common sense. Another connected epistemological concern was that by considering common good sense as inherently inferior to Cartesian conclusions developed from simple assumptions, an important type of wisdom was being arrogantly ignored.
Shaftesbury's seminal essay Sensus Communis: An Essay on the Freedom of Wit and Humour was a highly erudite and influential defense of the use of irony and humour in serious discussions, at least among men of "Good Breeding". He drew upon authors such as Seneca , Juvenal , Horace and Marcus Aurelius , for whom, he saw, common sense was not just a reference to widely held vulgar opinions, but something cultivated among educated people living in better communities.
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One aspect of this, later taken up by authors such as Kant, was good taste. Another very important aspect of common sense particularly interesting to later British political philosophers such as Francis Hutcheson was what came to be called moral sentiment , which is different from a tribal or factional sentiment, but a more general fellow feeling that is very important for larger communities:.
Now there are none so far from being Partners in this Sense , or sharers in this common Affection , as they who scarcely know an Equall , nor consider themselves as subject to any law of Fellowship or Community. And thus Morality and good Government go together.
Hutcheson described it as, "a Publick Sense, viz. A reaction to Shaftesbury in defense of the Hobbesian approach of treating communities as driven by individual self-interest, was not long coming in Bernard Mandeville 's controversial works. Indeed, this approach was never fully rejected, at least in economics.
And so despite the criticism heaped upon Mandeville and Hobbes by Adam Smith, Hutcheson's student and successor in Glasgow university, Smith made self-interest a core assumption within nascent modern economics, specifically as part of the practical justification for allowing free markets. By the late enlightenment period in the 18th century, the communal sense or empathy pointed to by Shaftesbury and Hutcheson had become the "moral sense" or " moral sentiment " referred to by Hume and Adam Smith , the latter writing in plural of the "moral sentiments" with the key one being sympathy , which was not so much a public spirit as such, but a kind of extension of self-interest.
Jeremy Bentham gives a summary of the plethora of terms used in British philosophy by the nineteenth century to describe common sense in discussions about ethics:. Another man comes and alters the phrase: He then tells you, that his common sense teaches him what is right and wrong, as surely as the other's moral sense did: This was at least to some extent opposed to the Hobbesian approach, still today normal in economic theory, of trying to understand all human behaviour as fundamentally selfish, and would also be a foil to the new ethics of Kant.
This understanding of a moral sense or public spirit remains a subject for discussion, although the term "common sense" is no longer commonly used for the sentiment itself. For example, French sens commun and German Gemeinsinn are used for this feeling of human solidarity, while bon sens good sense and gesunder Verstand healthy understanding are the terms for everyday "common sense". According to Gadamer, at least in French and British philosophy a moral element in appeals to common sense or bon sens , such as found in Reid, remains normal to this day.
Friedrich Christoph Oetinger , who appealed to Shaftesbury and other Enlightenment figures in his critique of the Cartesian rationalism of Leibniz and Wolff , who were the most important German philosophers before Kant. Vico, who taught classical rhetoric in Naples where Shaftesbury died under a Cartesian-influenced Spanish government, was not widely read until the 20th century, but his writings on common sense have been an important influence upon Hans-Georg Gadamer , Benedetto Croce and Antonio Gramsci.
It presents common sense as something adolescents need to be trained in if they are not to "break into odd and arrogant behaviour when adulthood is reached", whereas teaching Cartesian method on its own harms common sense and stunts intellectual development. Rhetoric and elocution are not just for legal debate, but also educate young people to use their sense perceptions and their perceptions more broadly, building a fund of remembered images in their imagination, and then using ingenuity in creating linking metaphors, in order to make enthymemes. Enthymemes are reasonings about uncertain truths and probabilities—as opposed to the Cartesian method, which was skeptical of all that could not be dealt with as syllogisms , including raw perceptions of physical bodies.
Hence common sense is not just a "guiding standard of eloquence " but also "the standard of practical judgment ". In its mature version, Vico's conception of sensus communis is defined by him as "judgment without reflection, shared by an entire class, an entire people, and entire nation, or the entire human race". Vico proposed his own anti-Cartesian methodology for a new Baconian science, inspired, he said, by Plato , Tacitus ,  Francis Bacon and Grotius.
In this he went further than his predecessors concerning the ancient certainties available within vulgar common sense. What is required, according to his new science, is to find the common sense shared by different people and nations.
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He made this a basis for a new and better-founded approach to discuss Natural Law , improving upon Grotius, John Selden , and Pufendorf who he felt had failed to convince, because they could claim no authority from nature. Unlike Grotius, Vico went beyond looking for one single set of similarities amongst nations but also established rules about how natural law properly changes as peoples change, and has to be judged relative to this state of development. He thus developed a detailed view of an evolving wisdom of peoples. Ancient forgotten wisdoms, he claimed, could be re-discovered by analysis of languages and myths formed under the influence of them.
Contemporary with Hume, but critical of Hume's scepticism, a so-called Scottish school of Common Sense formed, whose basic principle was enunciated by its founder and greatest figure, Thomas Reid:. If there are certain principles, as I think there are, which the constitution of our nature leads us to believe, and which we are under a necessity to take for granted in the common concerns of life, without being able to give a reason for them — these are what we call the principles of common sense; and what is manifestly contrary to them, is what we call absurd.
While Reid's interests lay in the defense of common sense as a type of self-evident knowledge available to individuals, this was also part of a defense of natural law in the style of Grotius. He believed that the term common sense as he used it did encompass both the social common sense described by Shaftesbury and Hutcheson, and the perceptive powers described by Aristotelians. Reid was criticised, partly for his critique of Hume, by Kant and J. Mill , who were two of the most important influences in nineteenth century philosophy.
He was blamed for over-stating Hume's scepticism of commonly held beliefs, and more importantly for not perceiving the problem with any claim that common sense could ever fulfill Cartesian or Kantian demands for absolute knowledge. Reid furthermore emphasized inborn common sense as opposed to only experience and sense perception. In this way his common sense has a similarity to the assertion of a priori knowledge asserted by rationalists like Descartes and Kant, despite Reid's criticism of Descartes concerning his theory of ideas.
Hume was critical of Reid on this point.
Despite the criticism, the influence of the Scottish school was notable for example upon American pragmatism , and modern Thomism. The influence has been particularly important concerning the epistemological importance of a sensus communis for any possibility of rational discussion between people. Immanuel Kant developed a new variant of the idea of sensus communis , noting how having a sensitivity for what opinions are widely shared and comprehensible gives a sort of standard for judgment, and objective discussion, at least in the field of aesthetics and taste:.
The common Understanding of men [ gemeine Menschenverstand ], which, as the mere sound not yet cultivated Understanding, we regard as the least to be expected from any one claiming the name of man, has therefore the doubtful honour of being given the name of common sense [ Namen des Gemeinsinnes ] sensus communis ; and in such a way that by the name common not merely in our language, where the word actually has a double signification, but in many others we understand vulgar, that which is everywhere met with, the possession of which indicates absolutely no merit or superiority.
But under the sensus communis we must include the Idea of a communal sense [ eines gemeinschaftlichen Sinnes ], i. Kant saw this concept as answering a particular need in his system: But Kant's overall approach was very different from those of Hume or Vico. Like Descartes, he rejected appeals to uncertain sense perception and common sense except in the very specific way he describes concerning aesthetics , or the prejudices of one's " Weltanschauung ", and tried to give a new way to certainty through methodical logic, and an assumption of a type of a priori knowledge.
He was also not in agreement with Reid and the Scottish school, who he criticized in his Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics as using "the magic wand of common sense", and not properly confronting the "metaphysical" problem defined by Hume, which Kant wanted to be solved scientifically—the problem of how to use reason to consider how one ought to act. Kant used different words to refer to his aesthetic sensus communis , for which he used Latin or else German Gemeinsinn , and the more general English meaning which he associated with Reid and his followers, for which he used various terms such as gemeinen Menscheverstand , gesunden Verstand , or gemeinen Verstand.
According to Gadamer, in contrast to the "wealth of meaning" that Vico and Shaftesbury brought from the Roman tradition into their humanism, Kant "developed his moral philosophy in explicit opposition to the doctrine of "moral feeling" that had been worked out in English philosophy". The moral imperative "cannot be based on feeling, not even if one does not mean an individual's feeling but common moral sensibility".
Kant himself did not see himself as a relativist, and was aiming to give knowledge a more solid basis, but as Richard J. Bernstein remarks, reviewing this same critique of Gadamer:. Once we begin to question whether there is a common faculty of taste a sensus communis , we are easily led down the path to relativism. And this is what did happen after Kant—so much so that today it is extraordinarily difficult to retrieve any idea of taste or aesthetic judgment that is more than the expression of personal preferences. Ironically given Kant's intentions , the same tendency has worked itself out with a vengeance with regards to all judgments of value, including moral judgments.
Continuing the tradition of Reid and the enlightenment generally, the common sense of individuals trying to understand reality continues to be a serious subject in philosophy. In America, Reid influenced C. Peirce , the founder of the philosophical movement now known as Pragmatism , which has become internationally influential. One of the names Peirce used for the movement was "Critical Common-Sensism". Thanks for reaching out! We will be in contact with you shortly. Profitable 1-hour Online Groceries. On-demand Logistics for Grocers. How We Make This Happen.
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