19 May 2022

Common sense (2)


Common sense (2)


 Whilst I get on with the essay, you might wish to consider this question: can we give a common sense definition of common sense?


 John Locke* used the term common sense to describe a situation where we accept an innate moral principle, for example, the categorical imperative and then to question its validity. If we did accept such a principle it would be contrary to common sense if we then asked why should we accept this principle? It is not common sense to believe of a thing that "... the same thing to be and not to be." Thomas Reid(1710-1796), who was born soon after Locke (1632-1704) died was a great advocate of common sense and was one of the influential Scottish Common Sense movement in philosophy. ** Reid believed that our common sense structures were reflected in our ordinary language.


 There is a brief article on common sense in Wikipedia*** which gives a very rough and ready history of the term common sense. In a way, the evolution of common sense must have reached a plateau with the attributed opinion of Einstein who it is claimed said: "Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen."


 In spite of the prominence and fall of the term common sense today we can safely say that common sense is not a methodology to equal for example the scientific method. Maybe it is true that our language does reflect what we take as being obvious, but there are many obvious things that are not factually correct.


 However, there is no doubt that we still use the term common sense in our daily life. I searched the term in Google news and randomly picked three stories with the term common sense in them. (see ref below for details****)


1) The Alzheimer's Society says: "It defies common sense that people with the disease have to get worse before they are offered drugs." 2) .......Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen tells us that investment in human rights results in major returns in social cohesion and economic participation. Of course, we don't need studies to tell us this, just common sense. 3) Americans could use about 10-15% less gasoline just by adopting these common sense measures.


 One of the most important aspect of these stories is the capacity to link common sense with value judgements. Although we can identify a moral implication or angle in all three stories, can we conclude that all common sense judgements are also moral judgements?


That patients ought to be treated immediately when their disease is discovered is not just a common sense judgement but also a moral judgment. It is reasonable to assume that someone with a disease that can be treated ought to be treated.


 But clinical judgements might not always follow our common sense judgments. And if we accept this premise we also have to accept that common sense not moral judgments. They might sometimes be, but they are not necessarily always moral judgements. If common sense judgements were also moral judgments we would be in the same position as the physician making a clinical judgment. Since most of us are not physicians but we are all moral agents. Which would be perfectly ridiculous and absurd as Locke might have said.


 The example of Americans saving on their gasoline is more a case of prescription rather than moral judgment. An argument based on saving the planet or humanity might not be as persuasive as saving a few bucks. In fact I do not see these types of common sense moral judgement. Polluting our environment with poisons and toxins is not a moral issue but a matter of simple cause and effect. Which is why I say that this form of common sense is more prescriptive than anything else. If "x" causes "y" and we want "y" then we better make sure that "x" takes place.


 Even prescriptive judgements are not necessarily reasonable judgements. If we want to be generous we can interpret the 10-15% savings as fuel that is not polluting the environment plus the bonus of having 10-15% more fuel in the future. But if we are conspiracy theorists we might interpret the 10-15% saving as gasoline that will be made available in the future at a higher price. Especially when we consider that petroleum stocks are not infinite.


 Thus common sense may or may not be moral judgments or prescriptive judgements. However, the three examples have another factor in common. The three of them appeal to our emotional feeling. The use of "just" and "defies" are supposed to make us feel that there is no time to waste or that we should spring into action now: there is nothing more we can need before we act.


 And it is this need to act that makes these common sense judgments as emotional judgements. If we were indifferent we would not have any reason to act, but emotions are the driving force to action. Maybe too driving for the likes or comfort of some people. For example in the statement by Alzheimer's Society we can just about feel the anger if not ire of the speaker. And the second reference which is from the Herald Sun, Australia, we can feel the frustration of the writer at the injustice experienced by the poor.


 Maybe the emotional content is the factor which Reid linked common sense with language. It is not that we have common sense in common but maybe we have emotions in common. Even if emotions are present in common sense, does this make common sense judgements also universal judgements? Given, of course, that we all have emotions.


 Let us consider a situation which might involve all the three elements of common sense: moral, prescriptive and emotional. A situation that might involve all three is our relationship with friends and colleagues. Our relationship with our colleagues involves us in all three elements by virtue of our rights and duties at work. The emotional bonding or relationship we have with friends, in a way, imposes on us a sort of moral and prescriptive duty. For example, we want to help our friends.


 So how should we deal with a colleague who is interfering with our work because of their behaviour? Or what are we to do if a friend of ours is behaving in an unfriendly way? Ignoring both people might be a way out. Hoping that in time they will realise the error of their ways and start behaving in a "normal" fashion. Of course doing nothing as a strategy is different from being indifferent to the situation. Indifference as I indicated earlier is the absence of emotion consequence or feeling. But doing nothing might send the wrong signal, maybe our doing nothing might be interpreted as everything is fine.


 But it is also true that being indifferent towards a colleague or a friend is not the normal thing to do. When we have a problem with a friend or colleague we do feel we ought to do something about it. We feel we ought to tell our colleague or our boss about our colleague's behaviour. Or we feel we ought to tell our friend or our other friends about our friend's behaviour. Thus not only does the emotional factor seems to give common sense a universal element but also an impetuous to act morally or express prescriptive opinions.


 However, indifference is a challenge to the emotional element in common sense thus making it difficult for emotions to be the universal element of common sense. It seems that although common sense has a number of virtues none seem to be either innate or universally binding. The fact that each of us can interpret a situation differently denies common sense a universal element. Someone might feel enraged at a colleague, but some others might feel indifferent.


 There might of course be other reasons why common sense is not necessarily universal. Common sense might not be a methodology to process sense perceptions or sense data as Aristotle seemed to have believed (see Wikipedia), but a function of our already existing epistemic state. Thus we do not process events from the world outside us and come to some sort of conclusion as to what to do; for example drive slower to save gas, administer the drug to fight the disease. But we incorporate these new sense data into our exiting knowledge and information and process this new state of knowledge to its logical or inductive conclusion.


 We do not look at the patient and say it is common sense to give them the drug because that is what is morally right to do. On the contrary, it is common sense for the Society to say that these patients ought to get the drug early because they know very well why patients are not getting the drug early. It was a decision by the UK drugs advisory body (NICE) who claimed that the relevant drugs are only cost effective in patients with advanced disease. Fortunately for patients with Alzheimer disease the Court of Appeal disagreed with NICE and now it is hoped the drug will be available to all those who need it. We can safely assume that both the Society and the Court of Appeal, by implication, did not reach this common sense position on a whim or an emotional reaction.


 Maybe something to be common sense because we know it is a relevant conclusion based on knowledge or experience. This might explain why common sense judgements are not as common as other judgements. When we say something is common sense it is because we reach that conclusion after a rational process. The dilemma is that those who lack the necessary background knowledge might not be able to reach the same conclusion as those who do. And this is for me the weakness of common sense. Common sense judgements have very little to do with sense perception, morality or even emotion, but have more connection with our epistemic state of mind. More connection with the knowledge, experience and information we have. This would immediately exclude common sense form being an objective process, function or methodology.


 So can we give a common sense definition of common sense? I think I have just done that. But your common sense might be better than my common sense.


 Take care




 *The Project Gutenberg EBook of An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding, Volume I., by John Locke http://www.gutenberg.org/files/10615/10615.txt


** Yaffe, Gideon, "Thomas Reid", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2005 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2005/entries/reid/>.


 *** Wikipedia, common sense


 **** 1) Dear Miriam - Health topic of the day: Take the fight to Alzheimer's 5/05/2008


http://www.mirror.co.uk/showbiz/yourlife/drmiriam/2008/05/05/dear-miriam-health-topic-of-the-day-take-the-fight-to-alzheimer-s-89520-20406141/ What's the treatment?


Last year the government's drugs advisory body Nice decided they aren't cost-effective for early-stage sufferers and should only be available on the NHS for advanced cases.


But last week the Court of Appeal ruled the process Nice used to make that decision was unfair - raising hopes the drugs may soon be made available for all sufferers.


The Alzheimer's Society says: "It defies common sense that people with the disease have to get worse before they are offered drugs."


Patients can buy them privately, but this costs at least £100 month.




2) Listen to home truths Article from: Herald Sun (Australia) http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,23644155-5000117,00.html


Philip Lynch, May 05, 2008 12:00am


In the area of income support, social security payments remain pegged below the Henderson Poverty Line.


The cost of inaction in these areas far exceeds the cost of action.


The work of Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen tells us that investment in human rights results in major returns in social cohesion and economic participation.


Of course, we don't need studies to tell us this, just common sense.


The UN committee commences its review of Australia in just a few weeks.




3) The Oil & Gas Journal, Bingaman lashes at Bush for oil, gas supply inaction Nick Snow, Washington Editor WASHINGTON, DC, May 5 Copyright © 2008: PennWell Corporation, Tulsa, OK; All Rights Reserved.


Consumers also need to understand that they increase their motor vehicle's fuel efficiency by about 7.5% for every 5-mph reduction in speed, by about 4% when the vehicle's tires are properly inflated, and by about 2% with regular maintenance, according to Bingaman.


"Americans could use about 10-15% less gasoline just by adopting these common sense measures. But they won't ever do so unless there is a lot of publicity that makes clear that they can save the equivalent of 50¢/gal by taking these simple steps," he said.


Best Lawrence


PhiloMadrid on Skype 6:30pm Sunday 22nd May: Common Sense (2)



No comments: