Why Common Sense is Nonsense

We are never perfect, but always more than what we appear to be.
We are never perfect, but always more than what we appear to be.

Every time I hear someone close a statement with “that’s common sense,” I instinctively cringe.

Before I explain the reasons for my reaction, I must explain why the idea of common sense is faulty logic. A look at aphorisms, or pithy, overused phrases, gives us clues about why common sense is, at best, illogical and, at worst, overly dismissive. Consider the aphorism below:

A fool and his money are soon parted.

Aphorisms, clichés, and idioms are the best examples of contextual boilerplates, or language that is used repetitively to describe an experience in a terse or trite way. The key here is context. In the above aphorism, the two key words are “fool” and “money.” The idea of money is omnipresent; every exchange we make for a product or service relies on currency. Without it, we cannot eat, wear clothes, or live under a roof. Foolishness, however, is a judgment often assigned to someone else based on hindsight.

It was foolish for her to buy that expensive outfit without a job.

In the above sentence, notice the lack of context in this judgment. This person could have purchased the expensive outfit for a job interview or a networking event. We simply don’t know the reasons why she bought the expensive outfit because the context is subjective for both the purchaser and the judge. The observer might insert some iteration of common sense into the judgment—a snippet of wisdom to disapprove of the behavior—in order to justify the conclusion.

Let’s consider that the purchase was impulsive. Again, foolishness is still judgmental, but the context is somewhat different. In this scenario, a commonsense response is based on experience, but still in hindsight. Context and experience are intertwined. No two people share identical experiences and, therefore, any objective judgment is still tainted by subjectivity. Common is not common at all. Common as derived from experience becomes a belief, and beliefs are always unique to experience.

We are supreme machines of emulation as evidenced in clothing styles and fads; however, most behaviors are based on risk. When the judgments follow, it is this commonsense reasoning that attempts to connect dots to the causality of the behavior. If a fool is separated from his or her money based on a failed investment or bet, then common sense becomes the conduit to try to explain the perceived foolish behavior. The judge has no idea what experience elicited the behavior, but common sense colors the judgment in a specific hue. If the investor had previous success with that specific behavior, then repeating it may be logical based on risk and reward. The judge is often oblivious to the other person’s previous wins, yet is quick to explain the behavior through commonsense reasoning.

This is why the idea of common sense is illogical and dismissive. We have no idea what experiences led to the other person’s behavior. Because of the lack of shared experience, the judge’s belief system is reinforced, often in a faulty conclusion.

The next time you want to impart wisdom through commonsense reasoning, remember that you are compromised by your own experiences of risk and reward, that these experiences help to forge your beliefs, and that your belief system is always a personal.

Don’t leap to conclusions or use faulty logic to assume something or someone is lacking common sense. It doesn't exist.

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