Common sense is often not as universal as one might think. Many of us even misuse it. Furthermore, not everyone has the faculty of discernment and logical sense, which are essential for effectively managing in every situation.
Written and verified by the psychologist GetPersonalGrowth.
Last update: 15 November 2021
Descartes claimed that common sense was the best distributed quality in the world; there was no one who did not possess such a judicious gift. For the famous mathematician and philosopher, this dimension, beyond personal idiosyncrasies, allowed everyone to be clear, and in the same way, what was right, what was acceptable and what bordered on the irrational.
Well, as Voltaire once said, common sense is actually the least common of the senses. What does it mean? Essentially, that such unanimity is not always real or perceived, especially when it comes to understanding what is logical or what to expect in any situation. In some way, everyone integrates their own common sense, which sometimes does not correspond to that of others.
On the other hand, the most curious aspect is that we would all be better off if we were able to apply this simplicity in terms of values and principles of action, starting from a judicious and almost universal essence. However, in some cases, even though we know what would be best to do in certain situations, we don't do it at all; partly out of listlessness, out of challenge, out of apathy or because our mind is engaged in other more complex dimensions.
Common sense tells us, for example, that we should lead a healthier life; however, we don't always put health first, and certainly not before immediate gratification. Common sense often whispers that that piece of paper should end up in the trash, that we should recycle more, that we shouldn't read the messages on our cellphone while driving, or that we should share more quality time with the people we love. If we are aware of it, why don't we do it?
"Common sense is really nothing more than a deposit of prejudices rooted in the mind before the age of eighteen."
What is common sense?
For psychology, common sense is the capacity for discernment that each person possesses (or should possess). Thanks to this ability, consistent decisions can be made based on logic and reason. Albert Einstein himself stated that much of what we call common sense is nothing more than a set of prejudices that others have instilled in us.
Be that as it may, this concept always seeks one and only purpose: the common good. Starting from this competence, it is assumed that we all have such a practical sense with which to facilitate coexistence, avoid conflicts and act for the well-being of all. However, where does common sense come from? In large part not just from what others teach or dictate to us, as Einstein would say.
In fact, it partly derives from our experience; from what we have seen, heard and experienced. Therefore, it is clear that each of us has traveled paths and experienced events that do not always resemble those of others. Like this your common sense, what is most logical to you, may not be logical to others.
Three ways of interpreting common sense
Throughout history, the concept of common sense has been approached from various perspectives. Understanding each of them will surely help us get a little clearer idea.
- Aristotle. For the Greek philosopher, common sense was exclusively centered on sensory experiences. In this sense, we all experience the same sensation when faced with a stimulus (seeing a glass breaking, feeling the heat of the fire, the sound of the wind…). Common sense, for him, came from sensitive objects, from what could be perceived through the senses.
- Descartes. For the French mathematician and philosopher, it did not matter that the individual belonged to a different culture. We all have a universal common sense, through which we can judge and distinguish the true from the false, the good from the bad.
- Pragmatism. This philosophical approach that arose in the XNUMXth century offers a more useful insight. According to this theoretical framework, common sense derives from our daily beliefs and experiences; that is, from the environment that surrounds us. And this, as expected, can vary according to the weather and the situations we face.
What does psychology say about it?
Adrian Furnham, a psychologist at University College London, suggests we never take anything for granted: Sometimes, what we consider common sense is outright nonsense.
What he tries to convey in his work is the need to adopt a critical and realistic view of reality. When we have to make a decision, the best thing to do is to analyze the context, the particularities of the case and what is best for us or what is most appropriate, but always in a judicious and reasonable way. Being guided by the mere concept of "common sense" can lead to making more mistakes.
Furnham reminds us, for example, of those beliefs that until recently were considered universal truths, such as the fact that women were not smart enough to vote or that the fate of the mentally disabled was imprisonment in health facilities. Common sense, therefore, is not always well calibrated, it could also be outdated or not suited to our personal needs. Let's also use it with a certain critical judgment, also trying to understand that that of others can lead to conclusions different from ours, for the simple fact that it tells or considers the situation from another point of view.