TA100 (Smith)


Commentary 7


                    ( RAYMOND BOUDON  ON COMMON SENSE )
by Herbert FJ Müller
14 January 2008, posted 19 January 2008


In an extension of the recent discussion on modernism (TA93 R19), I would like to draw your attention to a recent publication on common sense, a book by Raymond Boudon (Paris) on its necessity in democracy.  According to the reviewer, Stein Ringen (Univ Oxford), Boudon’s argument is that common sense is an important factor in countering the notion of ‘postmodernism’, which is sometimes said to amount to ‘relativism’ :  the improbable view that all opinions are equally valid. 

‘ The argument of this book is that elites are particularly susceptible to being misguided by ideology, and that ordinary people tend to be more down to earth ...  Jürgen Habermas has suggested that deliberation is a better route to rationality than introspection.  Boudon argues likewise. ...  of all things, good sense is the most fairly distributed in the world. ... democracy rests on a postulate that common sense is alive and well and to be trusted.  ...  The scientific conclusion from Boudon’s arguments is this :  the subjectivity of ordinary people can be trusted.  Until recently it was a strong view in methodology that social data on “objective conditions” were robust, for instance on income, consumption and housing, but that similar data on subjective conditions were unreliable, for instance on contentment and happiness.  In an important and rare breakthrough in the social sciences, over the past five years or so, that view has been overturned. ’


Common sense may always have been the first mover toward official opinions and laws (religious and other) that are then structured and used to provide more rigorous and authoritative enforceable guidelines for thought and behaviour.  -  I remember some old quotations, from long before DSM and axis II :  “ The psychopaths are the salt of the earth”; and (E Kretschmer) “in good times we write expert opinions about them, in bad times they form the government. ”





Ringen S, Trust the people.  Review of :
Boudon R, Renouveler la Démocratie.  Éloge du sens commun.  (2006, Paris : Odile Jacob.) 
in :  Times Literary Supplement 4 January 2008, p.24.




Herbert FJ Müller
     e-mail <herbert.muller (at) mcgill.ca>