Social Question

Coloma's avatar

What, exactly, is "common sense"?

Asked by Coloma (47010points) January 24th, 2013

So what is this mysterious “common sense” exactly, that many people toss around, especially the supposed lack of, in more intelligent people?
The catch phrase of “Oh, he/she is really smart but they have no common sense.” I’d assume that if one doesn’t walk around with their head tilted upwards into a rain storm, keeps their fingers out of light sockets, doesn’t play with matches and looks both ways when they cross the street, one could say they have some measure of common sense. What is your definition of “common sense” and why is it that it seems to be the catch all phrase that the less intelligent like to throw around to appease their own deficiencies of intellect?

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25 Answers

rojo's avatar

Common sense is the ability to make a rational judgement based on the facts or perception of the facts in a given situation.

Coloma's avatar

@rojo So choosing to cut your meat with a knife over a spoon would suggest one has common sense, based on the fact that knives are sharper than spoons? lol

bookish1's avatar

Hey look, @Coloma asked a question! I didn’t know you did that. I’m being useless here, so I should go to bed.

Coloma's avatar

@bookish1 Well…common sense you know. If you’re sleepy, go dancing!

rojo's avatar

Yes, I would say that falls under the category of common sense.
You may try, if you wish (this is where the free will part comes in), to cut your steak with a spoon while your SO uses a knife and you will note that he/she actually does it much more efficiently than you. So the hope is that you would learn from your SO and in future use a frikken knife.
But, I would add, if you wish to continue using the spoon that is your prerogative.
Dude, to each his own.

tups's avatar

I think it’s a lie.

Pachy's avatar

Old Spice.

Earthgirl's avatar

Common sense is intelligence based on logic, simple observation, and trial and error. As such, it doesn’t require any book learning or access to special inside information, hence the name common. It is common to all reasonably intelligent people. It is non-elitist. Of course, it’s logic, unsuplemented with detailed or scientific knowledge can often be flawed. Common sense will tell you the earth is flat for instance. But it generally functions well for every day tasks such as working out that it’s better to put your leggings on before your army boots, lol.

I figure there are a few types f people who revel in the use of common sense and love to see common sense trump education and higher IQ.

The first type is someone who is not very smart, nor very educated. They might be more or less rational and logical. They enjoy the fact that for once they can one up the person who generally feels superior to them. Can you blame them? It sucks always being at the bottom of the pecking order. Besides, sometimes they are actually correct and for them, that is a red letter day!Of course, not being so smart, their logic is sometimes wrong. Still, it makes sense to them because they fail to see the errors in their logic. So to them, common sense has provided an airtight argument.

The second type of person is someone who is very smart but just doesn’t have much education. I think it’s important to differentiate between stupid and uneducated. This person sees the stupidity or some opinion or approach to a task that even smart people who are educated can be prone to. After all, being smart doesn’t mean being infallible.

The last type is someone who is street smart and people smart. Often they have a lot of emotional intelligence even though they are not very educated. They amuse themselves by watching all the silly things that other, seemingly more intelligent people say and do. Reminds me of the character in Ruby Thewes in Cold Mountain. She is poor, uneducated and illiterate. Yet without her, Ada, the rich farm owner left to her own during the Civil War would not be able to survive. She teaches Ada her folk knowledge and what wisdom she’s picked up from her hard scabble existence and a real respect and love develops between the two women.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

It’s the wisdom to know what you do know and what you don’t know.

thorninmud's avatar

This book is an exploration of how “common sense” differs from reasoning. Very interesting.

The author’s contention is that most of the time we rely not on reasoning (which is reliable but effortful and time consuming), but on quick judgements based on approximation and “rule of thumb” thinking. This “common sense” approach is often “good enough”, but it typically works by substituting, a simple question for a more complex one, sacrificing accuracy.

Evolutionarily, “common sense” has value. It allows for quick response in simple situations, without expending lots of mental energy. Plus, it’s usually right. But it often fails us in more complex situations.

CWOTUS's avatar


Coloma's avatar

@Earthgirl & @thorninmud
Great examples, well done, thanks!
Yes, I was curious as to how the determination of “sense” is made, being so subjective and how this subjective sense of sense could be referred to as “common.”

RandomGirl's avatar

The problem with common sense is that it’s not common.

thorninmud's avatar

@Coloma Appeals to “common sense” are powerful, because they sound so right, and they’re easy to grasp because they don’t require careful analysis. But the conclusions are sometimes wrong.

It’s especially scary to see politicians use appeals to common sense to sell policies on complex matters. You hear this a lot in the deficit debates: the constant refrain by the deficit hawks is that “it’s just common sense” that you don’t spend more than you take in. And then you get this classic example of substituting a simple question for a more complex one: “Every household has to budget so that the bills aren’t greater than the paycheck. It’s the same for the federal government”. The average person can’t begin to grasp the intricacies of macro-economics in a globalized economy, so this complex question gets morphed into this much more manageable one: “How does my household budget work?”, on the assumption that the answer to this simple question will also apply to the more complex one.

This has strong appeal, because it sounds good; it makes the average person feel that they get something very important and that all of the “elites” are just trying to pull a fast one. But by ignoring the full complexity of the question, it leads to some wrong and potentially harmful conclusions.

Coloma's avatar

@thorninmud Another excellent sharing. Yes, that makes “sense.” :-)

gondwanalon's avatar

It is the most logical way to navigate through life.

Bill1939's avatar

It is the most emotional way to navigate through life.

ucme's avatar

Grasping the basics, putting 2+2 together & finding nowt else but a big fat 4.

Earthgirl's avatar

Ah @ucme ! Said so simply and well, all in your inimitable style. Love it.

ucme's avatar

@Earthgirl Cheers mrs ;¬}

Coloma's avatar

^^^ Haha..yes, and BONUS if you don’t have to use your fingers and toes for that ciphering task. That would be a combo of common sense AND IQ. lol

Berserker's avatar

Wise man once say, don’t piss against the wind. Don’t slap bears in the face. Stuff like that.

Coloma's avatar

@Symbeline Haha, yeah, if you’re going to feed the bears you better have more than one marshmallow on hand. lol

Paradox25's avatar

To me it is a subjective term that gets thrown around alot. A person’s common sense is dependent upon their life experiences for the most part. Obviously a person who never messed with a car their entire lives will not know where the oil filter is, or even what it is for that matter. Also, a person who has little street experience will not be great at dealing with swindlers and hoodlums.

I see common sense as a term which can only be a factor that is subjective to that person’s life experience. Now if a person who has been working on vehicles for many years can’t figure out some basic things, or if a streetwise person continues to get swindled then perhaps I could say that person lacks ‘common sense’.

Most people don’t think of common sense in the way that I do, and most usually use it to degrade others to boost their own egos. Common sense isn’t that common then, or is it? :)

Coloma's avatar

@Paradox25 Excellent sharing, I agree, it is so subjective.

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