Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, June 19, 2017

Week 3 - June 19 - Common sense 2


When it comes to common sense, William James places himself at a high level with his peers, but also alongside me, the common man. At the lower level, James and I share common sense. We both (as many people do) have the inherent and innate ability to grasp common concepts and ideas as associated with good judgement. Thus common sense forms the foundation for not only philosophical inquiry but the challenges of everyday life. In this arena of common sense, both James and I fall within the Scottish School. James can function in both arenas, however, the higher and the lower; I cannot. The common sense that James and I share functions as the foundation for discovery and as a caldron for useful experiences upon which each succeeding generation draws. It acts as a common ground where philosophers and common people like me can communicate. But the common sense used by philosophers goes beyond the common ground to a higher level of interpretive analysis that contributes to the view of an incomplete world and the philosophy of “noetic pluralism” that James participates in. I do agree with James that we and the universe are incomplete, but I do not agree that it will stay that way.
My knowledge is growing as I write this post, but as James put it, my knowledge is not growing all over; it grows in spots. It is a gradual process of change. I am getting new information and learning the definitions of new words. At some point in the future, what I am learning today will coalesce with something I have previously learned and wa-la, a new precept is born. In and among that process of all this, common sense is working to validate and confirm my conclusions or to invalidate and deny them. All of that is a process that philosophers like James relate to well, but philosophers like James are going beyond that simple process. They actually desire to travel through a wormhole, so to speak, and arrive at the truth of a conclusion without having to travel the long route of the primitive. It is the traditional analytical method that James wishes to bypass and jump directly to, or at least take a shortcut to, the end result. James calls the old rudimentary processes caudal appendages and vestigial that are no longer needed. All that may be true for James and his contemporaries, but for me, the old processes are not vestigial; I still use them; I still need them in order to keep cognitive dissonance at bay.

10 comments:

  1. "philosophers like James are going beyond that simple process. They actually desire to travel through a wormhole, so to speak, and arrive at the truth of a conclusion without having to travel the long route..." Not sure I see this. In fact James was impressed by Peirce's idea that final truth is what is destined to be arrived at in the ideal "end of inquiry"... but when does inquiry end? "Ever not quite." Analysis in the sense of being always on the prowl for new experience and new information is something pragmatists are committed to, not bypass.

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    1. What I mean by the wormhole comment is this: When analyzing complicated things, I tend to baby step through the process, whereas, James and probably you as well, can take giant steps, only lightly touching on the intermediate steps or skipping them all together. It is like a math problem. The beginner (me) must execute every step in the process of finding the right answer, but the experience mathematician (you and James) can skip several steps and arrive at the same place much sooner. I am a baby steeper. James is a leaper.

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    2. James was an imaginative thinker who trusted his own instincts. If that led him to skip some steps of analysis, that may or may not be a good thing. But he tells us early in "Pragmatism" that on his view all philosophers - all people, probably - tend to lead with their temperaments and personal predilections, and then later find rational arguments to cloak them in. In that sense he'd say even the most fastidious rationalist is a leaper. "Steepers" are leapers too. His critics hit him for leaping, and he hits them back for being disingenuous about their own leaps of analysis. They may be right, he may be right, but I don't think it's fair to suggest that James and his defenders are somehow concealing their own biases and preferences, or that they're mere sophists and pretenders. We should acknowledge, as James does, that philosophers of all stripes and temperaments are sincere.

      I'd love to slip into a wormhole of understanding, if I thought it would really take me someplace interesting - and if it would take me home again! If that's what a leap of philosophic imagination will do, I guess I'll sign up for the ride.

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  2. George,

    Thank you for your essay on common sense. We should devote a meeting to trying to grasp what James struggle to comprehend and then express. In Bauer's book, "William James on Common Sense," he quotes two letters from James that provide some insight. One to D.S. Miller, "I am in good condition, but in somewhat of a funk about my lectures, now that the audience draws near. I have got my mind working on the infernal old problem of mind and brain, and how to construct the world out of pure experiences, and feel foiled again and inwardly sick with the fever. But I verily believe that it is only work that makes one sick in that way that has any chance of breaking old shells and getting a step ahead. It is a sort of madness however when it is on you.The total result is to make me admire 'Common Sense' as having done by far the biggest stroke of genius ever made in philosophy when it reduced the chaos of crude experience to order by its luminous "Denkmittel" (tools for thinking) of the stable 'things'and its dualism of thought and matter. A second letter to F.S.C. Schiller reiterates his above statment, "the perfect magnificence as a philosophical achievement of the "Denkmittel" by which common sense has straighten out the chaos of individual experiences, -- the categories of 'thing' and 'property,' the dualism of mind and matter, and the notion of causal efficacy.
    Bauer made three points:
    First, James "surmised that the common-sense philosophy is the oldest one of all," because it is the way that humans have thought from the beginning. Second, "Every human, European or not, begins science and critical philosophy using common sense." This relates to "every human learner today: later thinking 'grafts onto' common sense. Third, a "common-sense worldview" will regain control even if an alternative is temporarily "takes its place."
    Maybe when we have our next face to face meeting, we can discuss this at greater length. I would like to fully understand and be able to fully discuss James's perspective on "Common Sense."

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    1. You have a good idea Don. Since I missed the first meeting, the next one will be my first. Nevertheless, I look forward to discussing common sense with you and Dr. Phil. And thanks for the encouraging words. I really do want to understand all this, but I am struggling with it.

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  3. James's key point on common sense, as I understand it, is that we NEED it... but need also not to become so wedded to it that we can't see the truths of uncommon experience. He said commonsense is better for one sphere of life, science for another, literary criticism for another, etc. etc., and there's an art to knowing which is appropriate in a given context. We develop that art by conversing, and listening, and attending to all experience as it comes. Not sure we need to get bogged down in this topic; the key takeaway is simple: be open to experience that confounds inherited common sense. Mill is going to talk about that.

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    1. Dr. Phil,
      "...be open to experience that confounds inherited common sense." I have been forced to do just that, embrace that which is not obvious and is counter intuitive. I was taking a calculus based physics class a few years ago and the professor said to me, "George you have a firm grip on the obvious." It was not a compliment. There are few thing that are obvious and intuitive in advanced physics. I use common sense to a great degree, but I have learned to dig deeper when things are not intuitive and run counter to common sense. There are some rewarding things that common sense does not embrace.

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  4. I agree that we need common sense and I agree that common sense is the predecessor of science and critical thinking. Yet, why is common sense becoming so uncommon in today's world?

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    1. Brandon,
      Your question, "why is common sense becoming so uncommon in today's world?" is a profound question. That would make a great, topic for a research paper. Why do you think common sense is uncommon?

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    2. My theory, for what it's worth: common sense, in either the sense of "gumption" (practical know-how coupled with good judgment) OR in the philosophers' sense of what everybody "knows" (which of course sometimes just ain't so, as Mark Twain put it) is in shorter supply because we've become increasingly passive, entertainment-oriented, and incurious. We don't read. We don't value broad cultural literacy and wide understanding of our own history and what used to be called "civics"... common sense in the positive vein requires active transmission and reception, and we've not been very receptive. On the other hand, we've been eager to accept reinforcement (facilitated especially by the Internet) of our least-examined prejudices. We've allowed ourselves to become more tribal, more suspicious of other tribes, more hostile to the world beyond our borders.

      And, as Anne Elk said, that is my theory... (look her up in the Monty Python archives, if you're curious)

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