Many years ago at school during a class on the Bible, I was told by the Headmaster: “Downey, you haven’t the sense you were born with”.  I can still remember my reply: “So everybody is born with sense Sir”!  I think the lesson was linked to the story in the Old Testament Bible of the parting of the Red Sea. This story always lacked an adequate explanation to me.  The Headmaster said to me that sometimes we just have to believe in things that are too difficult to understand if they come from a good source.  The Headmaster was really a nice old fellow steeped in the Anglican tradition, but a definite example from my point of view as a then 13 year old school-boy, of someone lacking in Common Sense!

How I wished at that time I had come across the saying of the Buddha:

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own Common Sense!”

 

What is ‘Common Sense’? I have many quotes regarding common sense but firstly let us look at a dictionary definition:

“Common sense is a basic ability to perceive, understand and judge things which are shared by (i.e. common to) nearly all people and can be reasonably expected of nearly all people without any need for debate.”

The senses that most of us have are sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.  If we lack one of these senses there is an ability to use a combination of the others to cover an absence of one. For example, if sight is absent, a blind person can use all the others.  In the absence of hearing a deaf person can use sight and lip-read.

Philosophers on Common Sense: The term common sense has been developed and much discussed by philosophers throughout the ages and in many lands.  The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle (540 BC), was perhaps the first person we can trace in the Western world who discussed the term Common Sense.  He was describing the ability with which animals and humans process sense perceptions, memories, and imagination in order to reach many types of basic judgements.  But he said only humans have real reasoned thinking.

Plato and Aristotle: said that the normal five individual senses do sense the common perceptible reality, but it is not something that they necessarily interpret correctly on their own.  Aristotle proposes that the reasons for having several senses is in fact that it increases the chances that we can distinguish and recognise things correctly and not just occasionally, or by accident.  Each sense is used to identify distinctions, such as sight identifying the difference between black and white. But, says Aristotle, all animals/humans with perception must have “some one thing” which can distinguish say black from white. Their Common Sense is where this comparison happens and this must occur by comprising impressions (or symbols) of what the specialist senses have perceived. This is therefore also where a type of consciousness originates – for it makes us aware of having sensations at all, and receives physical picture imprints from the imagination faculty which are then memories which can be recollected.

Aristotle’s understanding of the ‘Soul’  has an extra level of complexity in the form of the “Nous “ or intellect which is something only humans have and which enables humans to perceive things in a different way to other animals.  It works with images coming from the Common Sense and imagination using reasoning as well as the active intellect.  It is the ‘Nous’ which identifies the true form of things while the Common Sense identifies shared aspect of things.

Rene Descartes: As can be expected, many other philosophers have expanded and offered other arguments concerning Common Sense, and it is easy to become somewhat confused with all these theories.  It should be mentioned however, that one of the last notable philosophers to accept something like the Aristotelian Common Sense, was the French philosopher Rene Descartes, in the 16th century who thought that sensations from the senses travel to a Common Sense centre in the brain seated in the pineal gland, and from there to the immaterial spirit. I will leave you to research this finding – using your Common Sense of course!

Modern Philosophers: To bring us more up to date on Common Sense theory, there is an essay written by the twentieth century philosopher G.E. Moore in 1925 – “A defence of Common Sense”.  This essay argues that there are many kinds of statements which individuals can make about what they judge to be true and which the individual and everyone else know to be true. 

Another 20th century philosopher and political theorist, Hannah Arendt, argued that there was often a banality to evil in the real world which consisted of the lack of Common Sense and thoughtfulness generally – ‘Sense’ being used in cases of the acceptability or otherwise  of the moral good in society.  To stretch the point – most despots in history would be capable of this lack of Common Sense.  At the Nuremberg war-crimes trials following World War II, this point was actually used in the trial of Adolf Eichmann. The argument was put forward that the accused were devoid of Common Sense as a moral issue as they were – “just following orders”.

Hinduism and Theosophy: A paper which was presented at the Parliament of World Religions held in Melbourne, Australia, in 2009 emphasized the three laws of cause and effect that is the cornerstone of the Hindu tradition. These are:

  • Every effect has a cause.
  • The effect is nothing but the cause appearing in a certain shape.
  • From the effect, if you remove the cause, nothing remains.

We have now reduced by Common Sense to the very foundation of the ALL: the “I AM”.  Perhaps we should at this point finish with the first fundamental proposition of HP Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine which establishes three fundamental propositions, the first of which is like this ‘I AM”:

“An Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless and Immutable PRINCIPLE on which all speculation is impossible, since it transcends the power of human conception and could only be dwarfed by any human expression or similitude.  It is beyond the range and reach of thought – in the words of Mandukya, ”unthinkable and unspeakable.”

 

A few quotes from various sources on Common Sense:

 

·        Common Sense is in spite of, not as the result of, education – Victor Hugo.

·         Common Sense is that which judges the things given to it by the other senses – Leonardo da Vinci.

·         Common Sense in an uncommon degree is what the world calls wisdom – Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

·         It is inaccurate to say I hate everything.  I am strongly in favour of Common Sense, common honesty and common decency.  This makes me forever ineligible for Public Office – unknown.

·         Falling in love consists merely in uncorking the imagination and bottling the Common Sense – Helen Rowland.

      Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes – Oscar Wilde.

 

A young theosophist once asked HP Blavatsky, the principle founder of the Theosophical Society: “What is the most important thing necessary in the study of Theosophy?  Madam Blavatsky replied: “Common Sense, a sense of humor, and more Common Sense.”

If you wish to make a comment on this lecture or contact the author, please email: andrewrooke@hotmail.com