Up@dawn 2.0

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Week 3 - June 19 - Common Sense 1


Week 3 – June 19



Common sense:

James draws from Heraclitus’ the idea that all thing are flowing, therefore, one cannot step into the same river twice. Nothing is of pure being and everything is becoming. In the vein of this philosophy, James says the world generally changes and grows; therefore, it is incomplete. He initially says that we, likewise, grow in knowledge and we retain previously gained knowledge, but to combine all of what we know (new and old) into a change of ideas or attitudes, takes time. It takes time for the things we know (new and old) to coalesce into a new paradigm of thinking. James says we patch and tinker more than we renew. New information is generally not accepted easily if it conflicts with old information. Seldom, he says, is the new information added raw; it is added cooked. What he means by that is that we add the new idea as a whole with all its ingredients (components) baked in. The problem with this method of assimilating knowledge is that what we think we know (or components of it) may not be true. If given new information, we might see that the truth we thought we had was not truth at all; it was only perceived truth and it might take a while to give it up. “James relates this idea by saying that the widest field of knowledge that ever was or will be still contains some ignorance, may be legitimately held.”[1] There are many truths, he continues, that are ancient and proven and have been validated over time. I assume he is referring to philosophical truths form the ancients such as those of Heraclitus, Parmenides and Aristotle. These truths are embedded in our consciousness. We, therefore, think about things by recalling them, either consciously or subconsciously, and applying them to and with new ideas, thoughts and experiences. James says these old fundamental ways of thinking about things “have been able to preserve themselves throughout the experience of all subsequent time.” This statement is obviously a hypotheses or maybe wishful thinking since he provides no proof of exactly how this passing of vital information from the past to the present was accomplished. I assume he means that we have basic concepts that have been derived from the experiences of the past that were so profound that they continue in a linear sense from one generation to the next. Nevertheless, James says that these “discoveries of exceedingly remote ancestors” “form one great stage of equilibrium in the human mind’s development, the stage of common sense.”

1 comment:

  1. "James says these old fundamental ways of thinking about things “have been able to preserve themselves throughout the experience of all subsequent time.” This statement is obviously a hypotheses or maybe wishful thinking since he provides no proof of exactly how this passing of vital information from the past to the present was accomplished."

    Not "wishful," he's fully aware that this tendency of ours to consolidate the transmitted "common sense" knowledge of the past can sometimes block our receptivity to new ideas and information. Not sure it's a testable hypothesis either, more just an extrapolation from what he's noticed about how we shore up our beliefs and immunize them against challenge in a way that's both useful and detrimental to the human project of assimilating new truths. I don't think we're looking for "proof" here, the discussion of common sense is meant to provoke our reflection on how to guard against the worst conservative tendencies of human nature while recognizing their selective utility. I think it's a useful provocation, the value of which doesn't hinge on proof but simply on our recognition that experience in the large works both for and against our interests, sometimes preserving but sometimes preventing the assimilation of practical wisdom.

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