Common sense

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This article refers to a broad form of understanding.

For the political tract Common Sense, see Thomas Paine.
For the rapper formerly known as "Common Sense", see Common (rapper).

Common sense, roughly speaking, is what people in common would agree: that which they "sense" in common as their shared natural understanding. Some use the phrase to refer to beliefs or propositions that in their opinion they consider would in most people's experience be prudent and of sound judgment, without dependence upon esoteric knowledge or study or research, but based upon what is believed to be knowledge held by people "in common".

Alphabetized by author or source:
A · B · C · D · E · F · G · H · I · J · K · L · M · N · O · P -Q · R · S · T · U · V · W · X · Y · Z · Anon · External links

A[edit]

Alphabetized by author
  • Common sense should be renamed, cos nower days it's rare
    • Jamie Adenuga, aka JME, grime artist and rapper, from the song JME
  • Commonsense is the measure of the possible; it is composed of experience and prevision; it is calculation applied to life
    • Henri Fredrick Amiel, in “On the Art of Business” p. 88

B[edit]

  • Common sense is the favorite daughter of Reason, and altho thare are menny other wimmin more attraktive for a time, thare is nothing but death kan rob common sense ov her buty
    • Josh Billings, The Complete Works of Josh Billings (1876), p. 214
  • Wit, without sense, iz like a razor without a handle
    • Josh Billings, The Complete Works of Josh Billings (1876), p. 219
  • Many quite nefarious ideologies pass for common sense. For decades of American history, it was common sense in some quarters for white people to own slaves and for women not to vote. ... If common sense sometimes preserves the social status quo, and that status quo sometimes treats unjust social hierarchies as natural, it makes good sense on such occasions to find ways of challenging common sense.
    • Judith Butler, “A 'Bad Writer' Bites Back,” The New York Times, March 20, 1999

C[edit]

  • Common sense always speaks too late. Common sense is the guy who tells you you ought to have had your brakes relined last week before you smashed a front end this week. Common sense is the Monday morning quarterback who could have won the ball game if he had been on the team. But he never is. He's high up in the stands with a flask on his hip. Common sense is the little man in a grey suit who never makes a mistake in addition. But it's always somebody else's money he's adding up.
  • Common sense is that which tells us the world is flat.
    • Stuart Chase, quoted in S. I. Hayakawa's Language in Thought and Action (1952); this has sometimes become misattributed to Hayakawa in later publications.
  • A weak mind with no common sense magnifies trifling things and cannot receive great ones.
  • Common sense is only the application of theories which have grown and been formulated unconsciously as result of experience.
    • Hardy Cross, "For Mans Use of God's Gifts", collected in Engineers and Ivory Towers (1952), ed. Robert C. Goodpasture, p. 107

D[edit]

  • Le bon sens est la chose du monde la mieux partagée; car chacun pense en être si bien pourvu, que ceux même qui sont les plus difficiles à contenter en toute autre chose n'ont point coutume d'en désirer plus qu'ils en ont.
    • Good sense is of all things in the world the most equally distributed, for everybody thinks he is so well supplied with it that even those most difficult to please in all other matters never desire more of it than they already possess.
    • René Descartes, Discours de la Méthode (1637), Part I, incipit.
    • Variant: Common sense is the most widely shared commodity in the world, for every man is convinced that he is well supplied with it.
  • Unless the materials involved can be traced back to the material of common sense concern there is nothing whatever for scientific concern to be concerned with.
    • John Dewey, "Common Sense and Science", The Journal of Philosophy 45:8 (18 April 1948), §3; as reprinted in John Dewey: The Later Works, Vol. 16: 1949–1952 (1989), ed. Jo Ann Boydston, p. 252

E[edit]

  • Common sense is nothing more than a deposit of prejudices laid down by the mind before you reach eighteen.
    • Attributed to Albert Einstein in Mathematics, Queen and Servant of the Sciences (1952) by Eric Temple Bell. However, this may only be based on a paraphrase or summary of his views as documented at Quote Investigator.
    • Paraphrased variant: Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.
  • Nothing astonishes men so much as common sense and plain dealing.

G[edit]

  • The physician would be even worse off than he is, if not for the occasional emergence of common sense which breaks through dogmas with intuitive freshness.
  • Science and common sense differ as cultivated fruits differ from wild fruits. Science sows its seeds of inquiry, and gathers the fruit. Common sense picks the fruit, such as it, is by the wayside. Common sense has no fields or orchards of knowledge.
    • Sir William Withey Gull, A Collection of the Published Writings of William Withey Gull, Vol. 2: Memoir and Addresses (1896), ed. Theodore Dyke Acland, "Notes and Aphorisms", p. liv

H[edit]

  • Common Sense and Education: The more you think you have of one, the less you think you need of the other.
  • In all spheres of science, art, skill, and handicraft it is never doubted that, in order to master them, a considerable amount of trouble must be spent in learning and in being trained. As regards philosophy, on the contrary, there seems still an assumption prevalent that, though every one with eyes and fingers is not on that account in a position to make shoes if he only has leather and a last, yet everybody understands how to philosophize straight away, and pass judgment on philosophy, simply because he possesses the criterion for doing so in his natural reason.
  • The phrase is self-contradictory; "sense" is never "common".
  • It is a strange irony that the principles of science should seem to deny the necessary conviction of common sense.
  • Consider the very roots of our ability to discern truth. Above all (or perhaps I should say "underneath all"), common sense is what we depend on – that crazily elusive, ubiquitous faculty we all have to some degree or other.... If we apply common sense to itself over and over again, we wind up building a skyscraper. The ground floor of the structure is the ordinary common sense we all have, and the rules for building news floors are implicit in the ground floor itself. However, working it all out is a gigantic task, and the result is a structure that transcends mere common sense.
    • Douglas Hofstadter, Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern (1985), pp. 93–94
  • Science is a first-rate piece of furniture for a man's upper chamber, if he has common sense on the ground floor.
  • What is common sense? That which attracts the least opposition: that which brings most agreeable and worthy results.
    • E. W. Howe, in "Gaither's Dictionary of Scientific Quotations: A Collection of Approximately" p. 424; quoting from Sinner Sermons: A Selection of the Best Paragraphs of E W Howe (1926)
  • Common sense is in spite of, not the result of education.
    • Widely attributed to Victor Hugo posthumously but not in any of his published works. No sources indicating origins have been found.
  • Science, is I believe, nothing but trained and organized common sense, differing from the latter only as a veteran may differ from a raw recruit: and its methods differ from those of common sense only so far as the guardsman’s cut and thrust differ from the manner in which a savage wields a club.
    • Thomas Henry Huxley, "On the Educational Value of the Natural History Sciences" (1854), as reprinted in Collected Essays by T. H. Huxley Vol 3: Science and Education (1894), p. 45

J[edit]

Common-sense contents itself with the reconciled contradiction, laughs when it can, weeps when it must, and makes, in short, a practical compromise, without trying a theoretical solution.
  • Common sense, the half-truths of a deceitful society, is honored as the honest truths of a frank world.
  • The original Marxist notion of ideology was conveniently forgotten because it inconveniently did not exempt common sense and empiricism from the charge of ideology.
  • Common-sense contents itself with the unreconciled contradiction, laughs when it can, and weeps when it must, and makes, in short, a practical compromise, without trying a theoretical solution.
    • William James, "German Pessimism" (1875), a review of Der Modern Pessimismus by Edmund Pfleiderer; as reprinted in Collected Essays and Reviews by William James (1920), ed. Ralph Barton Perry, p. 17
  • In practical talk, a man's common sense means his good judgement, his freedom from eccentricity, his gumption.
    • William James, Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking (1907), Lecture 5: "Pragmatism and Common sense"

K[edit]

  • We know that the probability of well-established induction is great, but, when we are asked to name its degree we cannot. Common sense tells us that some inductive arguments are stronger than others, and that some are very strong. But how much stronger or how strong we cannot express.

L[edit]

  • A small overweight of knowledge is often a sore impediment to the movements of common sense.
    • Peter Mere Latham, as attributed without citation in Aphorisms from Latham (1962), ed. William Bennett Bean, p. 37

M[edit]

  • I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible to any public office of trust or profit in the Republic.
    • H. L. Mencken, as quoted in LIFE magazine, Vol. 21, No. 6, (5 August 1946), p. 52
  • I am one of those philosophers who have held that that "the Common Sense view of the world" is in certain fundamental features, wholly true.
    • George Edward Moore, "A Defence of Common Sense", as reprinted in Moore, Philosophical Papers (1959), p. 44

O[edit]

  • Common sense is not wrong in the view that is meaningful, appropriate and necessary to talk about the large objects of our daily experience…Common sense is wrong only if it insists that what is familiar must reappear in what is unfamiliar.

R[edit]

  • Since the world is what it is, it is clear that valid reasoning from sound principles cannot lead to error; but a principle may be so nearly true as to deserve theoretical respect, and yet may lead to practical consequences which we feel to be absurd. There is therefore a justification for common sense in philosophy, but only as showing that our theoretical principles cannot be quite correct so long as their consequences are condemned by an appeal to common sense which we feel to be irresistible.

S[edit]

  • Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.
    • Gertrude Stein, "Reflection on the Atomic Bomb", Yale Poetry Review, December 1947

T[edit]

Henry David Thoreau: There is absolutely no common sense; it is common nonsense.
  • There is absolutely no common sense; it is common nonsense.
    • Henry David Thoreau, "Paradise (to be) Regained", The Democratic Review (November 1843); as reprinted in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, Vol. 10: Miscellanies (1893), ed. Horace Elisha Scudder and Harrison Gray Otis Blake, p. 61

V[edit]

  • Whatever the common-sense of earlier generations may have held in this respect, modern common-sense holds that the scientist's answer is the only ultimately true one. In the last resort enlightened common-sense sticks by the opaque truth and refuses to go behind the returns given by the triangle of facts.
    • Thorstein Veblen, "The Place of Science in Modern Civilisation", The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 11 (March 1906); as reprinted in Veblen, The Place of Science in Modern Civilisation and Other Essays (1919), p. 4
  • On dit quelquefois: "Le sens commun est fort rare."
    • People sometimes say: "Common sense is quite rare."
      • Voltaire, "Common Sense," Dictionnaire philosophique portatif (1765)
      • The better known variant of this quote is "Common sense is not so common," said to be in the Dictionnaire philosophique entry "Self-Love"; but it is not found there.

W[edit]

Oscar Wilde: 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.
  • To act with common sense according to the moment, is the best wisdom I know; and the best philosophy, to do one’s duties, take the world as it comes, submit respectfully to one's lot, bless the Goodness that has given so much happiness with it, whatever it is, and despise affectation.
    • Horace Walpole, letter to Horace Mann, 27 May (1776), Letters of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford, to Sir Horace Mann (1844), Vol. 1, p. 409
  • 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.

Anonymous[edit]

  • There is nothing more uncommon than common sense.
    • Anonymous saying, dating back at least to its citation in Natural Theology (1836) by Thomas Chalmers, Bk. II, Ch. III : On the Strength of the Evidences for a God in the Phenomena of Visible and External Nature, § 15, where the author states: "It has been said that there is nothing more uncommon than common sense."; it has since become misattributed to particular people, including Frank Lloyd Wright.

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