KARL JASPERS FORUM
TA 100 (Smith)
DEFINING COMMON SENSE
by Maurice McCarthy
17 March 2008, posted 22 March 2008
Common sense is the form of cognition of the naive realist (1). It is non-deductive and unreflected. It is obvious. It is knowledge in action since the naive realist has not risen to the level of understanding which distinguishes knowledge from action. Therefore it is practical through and through. It is the ability to do things in a practical manner, a manner that 'works'.
"Look at him squeezing the dish cloth ! Has he got no common sense?" The woman took it off him and wrung it out. That is common sense. Like perception it has the form of immediacy - it is just there. Yet it has the clarity of conception. Clarity which stems from being wholly inside the cognitive act. That is why it is obvious.
So that is the result. Where do I start from and how do I get there ? All knowledge begins from experience but 0-D is unspeakable. To make it speakable it needs to be raised into consciousness. That requires introducing some determination. It means categorising experience. This is perfectly subjective and arbitrary. It is a trial and error method. The categories can be thrown away if they do not lead to insight.
/My/ common sense tells me that /my/ experience has four categories: feeling, perceiving, thinking and self-action or willing. These are the functions which compose my consciousness. They are not a set of discrete elements as each suffuses all the others. At the edges they blend into each other, spectrum-like. I shall now try to illustrate how each is inseparably in the whole of the others.
To experience anything is to perceive it in some sense. This applies even to your own thoughts. You know that you have them only by producing them and then seeing them. It is is the second stage in which they become conscious - the seeing of them. A feeling is a percept except that it is more obvious that it is personal and subjective. A percept is an estranged feeling. There is no way of anyone knowing that the qualitive feel of what I see as red is the same as there own. It is just as subjective as an emotion, feeling or passion. Yet the two feel different somehow. Again I do not know that I am acting unless I perceive it in some sense - the kinaesthetic or otherwise.
I have no doubt that my thinking is wholly my own act. It feels to be wholly mine and no one else's. My feelings are my actions in as much as they are changes or movements inside myself. Sometimes I can change my feelings consciously so these feelings at least are certainly my own actions.
All actual perceiving contains conception. The Ramachandran's in the Feb/March 2008 issue of Scientific American Mind say this:
"We have often emphasized in our column that even the simplest act of perception involves active interpretation, or intelligent "guesswork", by the brain about events in the world; it involves more than merely reading out the sensory inputs sent from sense receptors. In fact, perception often seems to mimic aspects of inductive thought processes. To emphasize perception's thoughtlike nature, von Helmholtz used the phrase "unconscious inference". Sensory input, (for example, an image on the retina at the back of the eye) is interpreted based on its context and on the observer's experience with, and knowledge of, the world. He used the word "unconscious" because, unlike for many aspects of thinking no conscious cogitation is typically required for perception. By and large it is on autopilot." Page 18.
Essentially the same point has been made philosophically by Sellars in the Myth of the Given. One cannot be conscious of the colour red without already having the concept of red - even though this does not imply that you are conscious of the concept as a concept. In other words, you don't need to be thinking consciousness to be able to see.
" ... we recognize that instead of coming to have the concept of something because we have noticed that sort of thing, to have the ability to notice that sort of thing is already to have the concept of that sort of thing ... " Empiricism and Philosophy of Mind, page 87. HUP edition 1997.
The crucial point is that the category is /not/ a box into which the items are place. The category is the significance of the item and without this we remain unconscious of it.
So now I have a beginning as well as and ending and it is merely a case of joining the two dots.
Seed-shoot-leaf-flower-fruit-seed. Life has the cyclic form of survival, of self-perpetuation. If common sense is a life-form then the identity given in the first sentence of this commentary is inadequate. It is the dead corpse of a concept - a result with no life history. It does not live and move on.
Natural selection tells us that the apparent physical design of life-forms is due to a /constrained/ history of accidents. In the animal kingdom, the alteration of bodily form evolutes into spatial (loco)motion and involutes into desire or feelings generally. Behaviour is the unity motion and feeling. Thus psychology is life and feeling - and behaviour must carry with it an evolved natural selection which describes it.
The history of the species is its evolution and this is encapsulated as the generalities of its behaviour. This is called instinct. The involute of accident is contingent opportunity. So we may conclude that /apparently/ designed or planned actions can result from instinct and opportunity. Using a stone to break an egg is not a sign of intelligence. Fashioning a stone and then using it to break an egg is such a sign. Instinct and opportunity are evolved natural selection at work. It requires the evolute of instinct into thought-form in order transform instinctive action into human common sense. If instinctive action is common sense then it is a less objective form than that of the human being.
"Cognition" is a delightful word to use here. "Co" can be read as the engagement of the subject with experience and, also, as the commonality of subjects in agreed knowledge. Further gnosis is immediate knowing; just knowing without further ado.
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