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Common Sense by Thomas Paine

Do you know people who struggle with common sense?  And these might be otherwise highly intelligent people who, when it comes to the latter, either don’t have it or don’t use it.

Sound familiar?

Don’t be too hard on them.  Common sense is a lot like language.  It’s easy to use (in fact, it’s a basic, everyday thing) when you’ve done so without hindrance your whole life; but when you look at its complex structures and presupposed points of reference for meaning, you understand why only the super-elastic brain of a very small child can easily appropriate it.  If it isn’t mastered at that early stage, it becomes much harder.

One has to admit that common sense deficits seem to be popping up more and more nowadays, at individual and institutional levels…and with not-so-nice consequences.

This is why I think we need a renewed sense of the importance of philosophy in our society, and in our education.  Granted, this is not going to be very popular in a society that estimates the value of a field of study primarily by how lucrative it is, or by its strictly utilitarian aspects — in other words, how useful is it in the immediate context of the professional world.

But to regain the “love of wisdom” (the meaning of the ancient Greek root of the word “philosophy”) may just be of more use than we think.

Whether we are studying formulas for logic, learning the intricacies of Socratic dialogue, or weighing the merits of the categorical imperative vs. the cost/benefit analysis, the proverbial wheels are turning in the direction of critical thinking, creativity in problem-solving, and methods of situational judgement.

True, no one is going to stop in the middle of a circumstance that requires immediate action, carefully scrutinize it, consider it from various philosophical positions, etc.  But philosophical reasoning is a lot like working out: No one is lifting dumbbells or doing push-ups in the everyday situations that require physical fitness, but these methods prepare for the latter by exercising the necessary muscles and getting one’s “juices” properly flowing.

One caveat, though: Philosophers in the world of academia need to make sure that they are actually teaching their students philosophy.  Rather than let their classes devolve into mere debating societies or institutional “Oprah Winfrey Book of the Month” clubs, philosophy professors concerned about promoting the value of their field should ensure that their students get the most out of what it has to offer.

It’s only common sense, after all.

Image of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” from Wikipedia

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