In his book, Where Have All The Leaders Gone, Lee Iaccoca claims common sense as one of the Nine Cs of Leadership.
The Ninth International Symposium on Logical Formalizations of Commonsense Reasoning, Commonsense 2009, took place this year to explore one of the long-term goals of Artificial Intelligence, that of providing computers with common sense.
Stephen Downes claims common sense is what’s needed to avoid or prevent some Internet fraud.
In 1776 Thomas Paine published anonymously a best seller 48 page pamphlet, Common Sense, challenging the authority of British rule in America.
Have you ever thought about what makes up common sense?
Have you ever tried to explain what common sense is?
Seemingly, it’s an awareness, like the ability to judge temperature, recognise directions close to the vertical, or the talent for dress sense.
Difficult to measure
We hear a lot about common sense today. It’s something that every school teacher admires. Possessing common sense seems to be one of the key attributes for achieving success – in any walk of life.
Each of us has a quantity of it – some of us have more than others.
Yet it is extraordinarily difficult if not impossible to measure, let alone define. We are more often made aware of common sense as an entity by its absence than through its occurrence.
Intelligence & noticing the obvious
The brightest and most knowledgeable among us can succumb to a lapse of common sense. Even trainee doctors can suffer a lack of it. When it comes to recognising simple clues, it’s clear that what’s required is more than just expert knowledge or even skill.
One of the most celebrated American scientists, Linus Pauling, undoubtedly possessed a fair amount of common sense in his day.
His researches and passion for what is right earned him Nobel prizes in two disciplines.
Common sense drove him to pursue research into vitamin C and the common cold in directions that have since been proven unequivocally fallacious. This is not a criticism of Pauling. I have a huge respect for all that he did in his life. But his efforts show the illusive nature of common sense and how it can direct or mislead decision making.
Is it instinctive?
If common sense is innate, does this mean that it cannot be acquired by someone who begins life with a less-than-average amount? This idea suggests that it’s like the gene for eye-colour – you are stuck with whatever calibre of common sense you had at birth.
There’s a lot to suggest that common sense is instinctive. In action it tends to be intuitive rather than contrived. Generally the common sense decision is not brought about through a process or processes involving logical thinking strategies, though the use of these cannot be discounted when common sense is brought into play.
Can it be learnt?
If it isn’t an inborn trait, how can a person ensure that a useful amount of common sense is acquired?
I’m only too aware of the rhetorical nature of these questions,
but I’m going to ask them anyway:
- Is it possible to teach/learn common sense?
- Can common sense be assessed?
If so, how can it be measured?
- Should common sense be included as an essential part of the school curriculum, like literacy and numeracy?