An argument in favor of reviving common sense….
Someone once mentioned to Dr. Samuel Johnson a certain person who claimed to see no distinction between virtue and vice. To which Johnson replied: “If he does really think that there is no distinction between virtue and vice, why, Sir, when he leaves our houses let us count our spoons.” This is, a good example of common sense set to work, albeit by an uncommon man who wielded it like a club. A prideful conceit makes its appearance and common sense subjects it to the comprehensive fact: if we didn’t distinguish between virtue and vice, no one could trust another and the whole system of life would fall apart.
Common sense, then, is adamantly antihistorical. It insists implicitly that nothing fundamental really changes much. Birds of a feather will still flock together, pride will still go before a fall, an ounce of prevention will still be worth a pound of cure, and our general nature will still be visible under any cloak that history fashions for it. What, after all, do Homer’s heroes have in common with us? Nothing, except pride, vanity, courage, friendship, fear, anger, folly, and mortality.
It is here, however, that common sense and modern thinking have most widely drifted apart. The modern mind is history-minded. It dwells not on permanence but on change. It sees humankind submerged in history, altered perpetually by history. From the viewpoint of modern thinking, the comprehensive facts of our general nature hardly seem very important. They appear to be a sort of lumpish redidue left behind by the historical process and consisting chiefly of trifling truisms about birds of a feather and the like.
This view is a perilously shallow one. The facts that common sense grasps are often the truly deep and marvelous ones. The rule always cuts deeper than the exception. Any clever sociologist can, and will, get up an explanation of crime, but it would take more than a clever sociologist to explain the real mystery, which is why most people are law-abiding. Similarly, any ingenious psychologist can produce an explanation of suicide, but who will explain non-suicide? Even the intrepid Aristotle gave up any thought of trying. “There must be something sweet about life,” he concluded, “or men would not cling to it so.” Is there a general proposition more profound, more rich in wonder, than this common-sense observation?