Neither Common Nor Sense!

Common Sense Tombstone

Common sense is often defined as “sound judgment derived from experience rather than study“.

The Oxford English dictionary states common sense as “the ability to use good judgment in making decisions and to live in a reasonable and safe way” and in the Merrion-Webster dictionary as, “sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts”.

And is often regarded as a revered quality in many western cultures. It evokes images of an earlier, simpler age when industrious men and women built our culture into what it is today. People with common sense are seen as reasonable, down to earth, reliable, and practical.

However, Jim Taylor Ph.D. in Psychology Today says, “But here’s the catch. Common sense is neither common nor sense. There’s not a whole of sound judgement going on these days (though whether it is worse than in the past, I can’t be sure), so it’s not common.

“If common sense was common, then most people wouldn’t make the kinds of decisions they do every day. People wouldn’t buy stuff they can’t afford. They wouldn’t smoke cigarettes or eat junk food. They wouldn’t gamble. And if you want to get really specific and timely, politicians wouldn’t be tweeting pictures of their private parts to strangers. People wouldn’t do the multitude of things that are clearly not good for them.

“And common sense isn’t real sense if we define sense as being sound judgement because relying on experience alone doesn’t usually offer enough information to draw reliable conclusions. Heck, I think common sense is a contradiction in terms. Real sense can rarely be derived from experience alone because most people’s experiences are limited.”

And, it’s not just him that has reservations about the validity of the idea of common sense. Two very different geniuses from the past have also expressed their own!


So, when anybody pipes up and states that “it’s only common sense, isn’t it” and assumes I’ll take that as gospel, I’ll respond in the traditional Scottish way with Aye! Right!“.