Friday, August 09, 2013

The Appeal to Common Sense

By Gary Berg-Cross

Everyone appeals to common sense. President Obama recently used it:
“The idea to shut down the government at a time when the economy is gaining some traction ... I am assuming that they will not take that path… I have confidence that common sense in the end will prevail.”

I’m not so sure he’s right there that sound judgment will prevail.

You hear in the debate over Immigration (A plea for common sense and compassion in the immigration debate) where the common sense appeal to is one of a humanitarian and, ultimately, moral basis in distinction to economic, social and enforcement aspects of the issue.
I might agree with that priority, but this argument is not that common. common sense is a term with philosophical origins, which is today commonly used to refer to a basic ability to perceive, understand, and judge things which is shared by ("common to") nearly all people, and can be reasonably accepted by nearly all people without any need for debate. A practical example these wet summer days is if it looks like rain take an umbrella when you go out.

This comes out of our everyday world of seemingly direct perception and experience of getting wet.  Common sense evokes the idea of practical world and easy, harmonized knowledge and reasoning we can use to plan our day.
There is idea of a reasoning independent of particular training and experience and hence shared by us all.  Or perhaps we might say that just the common life experience of growing up in the world gives us the base to reason from.  It’s not an idea that holds up well under examination given the appeals to it we see used widely.  
The trouble is that common sense appeals often seen to be about values that immediate perception and involving basic knowledge acquired from age 2-8. .
All too often the topic is something we might or should agree on and don’t. In these cases common sense gets argued for secondary things, not the primary ones and that is an important debating point.  Such hidden agendas are technically way beyond a topic of 8 year olds. The argument in the previously cited article is for an immigration bill that “upholds values Americans cherish—hard work, opportunity and compassion.” 
Sounds great but values are much more abstract than immediate and a subject for well informed and reasoned debate with agreed upon facts. Consider the reasoning applied to the recent Farm Bill:
Today we have crops that are more resilient to extreme weather and disease, meaning that the livelihood of my family is less tied to the whims of Mother Nature. In fact, about 90 percent of corn and soybeans have been improved with biotechnology today. By producing a higher yield, these crops allow me to do more with less and help meet the growing food needs of our world.
Any technology that helps me and my family earn a little bit more for each hard-fought acre we farm is a welcome advancement. But not everyone chooses to see the benefit of these technologies for America’s families.
It’s a simple, linear type argument but not everyone would agree with the chain of reasoning because our knowledge, experience and reasoning differ:
·         less tied to nature’s whims is good (does nature really have whims?)
·         Biotech improves crop yield (or does it reduce pest damage if we use it with,,,?)
·         Result more food crops that the world needs (cost/benefit analysis please)
·         It helps my family so it is good (what about damaging other families with pesticide food?)

All too often we get the inverse labeled as “common sense”. There is, for example, a common sense show It is a little disconcerting to see some of its topics:

o   Sharia law, illegal immigration and the free trade agreements are designed by the globalists to subvert the Constitution and to undermine the national identity

We should be progressing in better and better common sense.  Some blame education for the lack of it. I think the reasons go deeper and include an anti-intellectual culture attitude which dis-respects reflection and encourages a divisive acceptance of shallowness.

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