COMMON SENSE (sensus communis,
(1) Intelligence common to all men; the word "sense" is here used as
equivalent to cognitive power, but especially as spontaneous or
instinctive. "Common Sense" is thus cognitive power common to humanity.
(2) Popular usage, in making it equivalent to sagacity and prudence
combined, thus involving a mark of distinction among men. The former is
the only philosophic use of the term, and is that intended when the
early Scottish Philosophy was named the Philosophy of Common Sense.
It is that philosophy which accepts the
testimony of our faculties as trustworthy within their
respective spheres, and rests secondary or derived knowledge on
certain first truths or primitive beliefs, which are the
constitutive elements or fundamental forms of our rational
nature, and the regulating principles of our conduct. This
became the descriptive title of the Philosophy of "the Scotch
School," as it is distinguished for an ultimate appeal to
consciousness, and to the principles of intelligence common to
the mind of man.
The father of the Scottish Philosophy states his position thus:—"There is a
certain degree of sense which is necessary to our being subjects of law and
government, capable of managing our own affairs, and answerable for our conduct
to others. This is called common sense, because it is common to all men with
whom we can transact business or whom we call to account for their
conduct... The same degree of understanding which makes a man capable of acting
with common prudence in life, makes him capable of discerning what is true and
what is false in matters that are self-evident, and which he distinctly
apprehends" (Reid, Intellectual Powers, essay VI.
ch. II., Hamilton's ed., Works, p. 422; Stewart's Elements of Philosophy of
Human Mind, pt. II. ch. I., Works, III. p. 51).
"A power of the mind which perceives truth, not by progressive argumentation,
but by an instinctive and instantaneous impulse; derived neither from education
nor from habit, but from nature; acting independently upon our will, whenever
the object is presented, according to an established law; and, therefore, not
improperly, called a sense, and acting in the same manner upon all mankind; and,
therefore, properly called common sense, the ultimate judge of truth" (Beattie,
Essay on Truth, pt. I. ch. I, 10th ed., p. 26).
For a full discussion of the Philosophy of Common Sense, with extended reference
to authorities—Hamilton, note A to Reid's Works, pp. 743-803. For history of the
Scottish School —M'Cosh, The Scottish Philosophy.