Western Tradition of Common-Sense

Barry L. Clark, December 20, 2019

Synonymous terms: | Western work ethic |Western moral tradition | common philosophy |

Related terms: |realism |common-sense |stoicism |Christian metaphysical realism | Western tradition |Western Civilization|

Abstract

Common-sense, a form of stoicism and a worldview based upon realism informed by and shaped by Christian metaphysical realism, are the keys elements that built Western Civilization.

Text

Western Civilization became what we know historically of the West because the vast majority of Westerners have understood because, natural law – right and wrong.  They understood, because all men understand, their right to life, liberty and property. These are natural and universal human things, all men seek them and all men rebuff at being deprived of these rights. They understood justice because justice relates directly to natural law and natural rights.  They understood their world because they were attuned to common-sense. They dealt with the hardships and adversity of life by being realist and facing problems stoically. They buttressed the gaps in their ability to self-govern and their inabilities to sometimes alter their own fates through hard-work and perseverance with faith. Common-sense, a form of stoicism and a worldview based upon realism informed by and shaped by Christian metaphysical realism, are the keys elements that built Western Civilization.

Common-Sense

Common-sense exists because first principles, natural moral law, and universal truths exist. It exists because men commonly have access to ways and means by which they may discern the reasonableness of something by referencing unwritten and universal truths. Its existence implies that there must be something else at work in the universe.  It must be based upon something else, something more than collective and received wisdom and more than personal experience. The entire premise of common-sense existing for common use and application relies upon the existence of universal truth.  You simply cannot have common-sense, universally applicable, without some set of unwritten, unseen but knowable truths; first principles. (Clark, 2019)

Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid (1710–1796), argued in defense of the “opinions of the vulgar” – vulgar meaning the common ordinary man. He defined these opinions as; “first principles, principles of common sense, common notions, [or] self-evident truths” and further argued that:

  • Denial of a common-sense principle is not only false but absurd
  • A common-sense judgment is “necessary to all men for their being and preservation, and therefore it is unconditionally given to all men by the Author of Nature
  • Common sense intuitive judgments are “no sooner understood than they are believed. The judgment follows the apprehension of them necessarily, and both are equally the work of nature, and the result of our original powers
  • Common-sense possess “the consent of ages and nations, of the learned and unlearned, [which] ought to have great authority with regard to first principles, where every man is a competent judge.”(Reid, 1852)

Reid argues of contingent truth that “That those things do really exist which we distinctly perceive by our senses, and are what we perceive them to be”.  In terms of contrary arguments that present alternate views of reality Reid simply states these views are no more likely to be true than the common-sense view.(Reid 1852, 6.5, 476)

Adam Ferguson(1723-1816), another Scottish Philosopher, argued in support of traditional societies for developing honor and loyalty and against commercial society for making men physically and morally weak. (Ferguson, 1767)

Stoicism

Christopher Brooke in Philosophic Pride argues that Stoic philosophy played a vital role in the formation of the modern Western Mind and Western Society. (Brooke, 2012) His argument centers on the educated and the learned and deals with the formation of political philosophies, institutions, and ideas but his work does show the influence of Stoicism throughout the development of Western Civilization, even during times when the terms Stoic and Stoicism were not used.  It is not unreasonable to argue that the same sort of diffusion and passing along of these ideas occurred in other classes as well.

David Hackett Fischer in Washington’s Crossing argues that George Washington lived by the principles of self-government, discipline, virtue, reason, and restraint but that his worldview was shaped by men of ideas that added “a philosophy of moral striving through virtuous action and right conduct, by powerful men who believed that their duty was to lead others in a changing world. Most of all, it was a way of combining power with responsibility, and liberty with discipline.”(Fischer, 2006)

Stoicism as an ethical construct and coping mechanism is embedded throughout Western Civilization and society. It is not an exaggeration to say that through stoicism the oceans were explored, the west won, land cleared, industry was manned with workers and built by intrepid industrialist,  essentially the entire current world order rest upon the foundation of men and women that got going when the going got tough. (Clark, 2019)

Realism

The world is what we see, smell, taste and otherwise, perceive either with our senses or our technological tools. The world exists independent of our conceptions or imaginations of how it is or ought to be.  There is no doubt that the world is as we sense it.  This is the view of the man of common-sense.

To be certain, one may detect more or less with the sense of smell than another.  One man may take in more, notice more with sight, while another is more attuned to sound.  The nature of the universe does not change from man to man based upon these perceptions.  The existence and the nature of the universe are independent of our perceptions and our interpretation of those perceptions. (Clark, 2019)

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Complete Topical Index

Purpose:  to clarify for simplicity, consistency, and reference the meaning of the defined terms and its use in documents related to the Fourth Turning Clash of Inter-Civilization Cultures Project

 

References:

Brooke, C. (2012). Philosophic Pride: Stoicism and Political Thought from Lipsius to Rousseau. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=GulESADToWsC

Clark, B. L. (2019). The Philosophy of Commonsense : A Cultural War Primer. https://books.google.com/books/about?id=CK6-DwAAQBAJ

Ferguson, A. (1767). An essay on the history of civil society. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=CvoIAAAAQAAJ

Fischer, D. H. (2006). Washington’s Crossing. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=Oreq1YztDcQC

Reid, T. (1852). Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=3AcQAAAAYAAJ