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Lesson #3 For the LewCrew

People often come on my presentations on Periscope and make statements that though well-meaning clearly are not well thought out.

Often when I discuss a concept or idea with my students or in a “scope” I will often hear someone say to me that something seems “obvious” or is “common sense.”
The fact that this is being said at all tells me that this individual doesn’t really understand what “common sense” is.

This lesson is about common sense. What might be best described as the “elementary mental fitness of  the normal human being.” Of course the word “normal” used in this context immediately presents us with challenges since the question immediately arises.

“What is normal?”

For many of us, common sense is nothing more than  the basic ability to perceiveunderstand, and judge things, which is shared by (“common to”) nearly all people and can reasonably be expected of nearly all people without any need for debate. This is a concept throughout my teachings which we refer to as  “living in a self-created socially and emotionally balanced “functional reality”.

Clearly many people lack common sense which is a mystery to those  who have convinced themselves that they have an abundance of it.

The challenge is that if we study history, we soon learn that the very definition of common sense has shifted and changed since the ancient Greeks first began writing and discussing the subject.

As basic as the idea may seem “Common sense” actually has at least two specifically philosophical meanings. Aristotle spoke of the capability of the animal soul (Greek psukhē)  – which includes humans –  it uses  different individual senses to process sense-perceptions, memories, and imagination in order to collectively perceive the characteristics of physical things such as movement and size, which all physical things have in different combinations. This would allow humans and other animals to distinguish and identify physical things in order to reach many types of basic judgments. In Aristotle’s scheme, only humans have real reasoned thinking (noein), which takes them beyond their common sense.

This approach to common sense and an in-depth exploration of the great thinkers who debated this concept over the last 3,000 years is discussed Volume 8 of the Teaching of Lewis Harrison “Uncommon Sense” Making Choices, Not Excuses and Solution Thinking – Volume 8”

All these meanings of “common sense”, including the everyday one, are inter-connected in a complex history and have evolved during important political and philosophical debates in modern western civilization, notably concerning science, politics, and economics. The interplay between the meanings has come to be particularly notable in English, as opposed to other western European languages, and it is the English term “common sense” that has become internationally understood to mean what it does.

The discussion of what or what is not common sense spans across  in a diverse range of disciplines including social science, and especially economics. The question of  “Moral sense*” and “ethical sense*” as opposed to “rationality*” is a never-ending one

The axiom that communities can be usefully modeled as a collection of self-interested individuals is a central assumption in much of modern mathematical economics, decision science, and game-based thinking.  Mathematical economics, especially when described as “Game Theory” has now come to be an influential tool for political decision making.

While the term “common sense” had already become less commonly used as a term for the empathetic moral sentiments by the time of Adam Smith, debates continue about methodological individualism* as something supposedly justified philosophically for methodological reasons (as argued for example by Milton Friedman and more recently by Gary S. Becker, both Nobel prize winners and  members of the so-called Chicago school of economics). As in the Enlightenment, this debate continues to combine arguments about not only what the individual motivations of people are, what can be known about scientifically, and what should be usefully assumed for methodological reasons, even if the truth of the assumptions are strongly doubted.

Economics and social science generally have been criticized as a refuge of Cartesian methodology and skepticism. A point of view that essentially states “That one needs to be systematically skeptical about or doubt the truth of one’s beliefs.  Furthermore,  all knowledge claims need to be placed under scrutiny with the goal of sorting out true from false claims.”

There are many critics of this Cartesian methodological argument – that there is a specific method to define common sense based on self-centeredness in economics.

Most humans, both individually and in groups, seek to maximize their potential at the lowest cost. That is what this hopes to show the reader. It is unlikely that one can achieve maximum efficiency, productivity, and effectiveness in decision making by trying to force economics to follow artificial methodological laws. Things change and humans change with them. Is there some deep, intuitive law of common sense? Some tacit knowing? Likely there is but who wants to take on the role of engineering the world to reflect one person’s or one group of people’s perspective on just what that is?

In order to master common sense, you have to transcend clichés and cognitive biases and get down to some serious critical thinking.

Thanks for being part of our community, contributing, sharing, reading the emails & watching the “scopes”. I celebrate you and that you are taking the steps towards giving up an unnecessary struggle.


Lewis Harrison