Wednesday, February 18, 2009

COMMON SENSE


From susanjamesbookstore.com
How often we hear the expression "Why, I never thought of that!" Why? Because we have failed to exercise Common Sense--that genius of mankind, which, when properly directed is the one attribute that will carry man and his kind successfully through the perplexities of life. The desire for knowledge, like the thirst for wealth, increases by acquisition. Common sense rarely needs to strive; it unfolds itself in an atmosphere of peace, far from the tumult of obstructions and snares that are not easily avoided. A most absurd prejudice has occasionally considered common sense to be an inferior quality of mind. To those who possess common sense is given the faculty of placing everything in its proper rank. Persons who cultivate common sense never refuse to admit their errors. One may truly affirm that they are rarely far from the truth, because they practise directness of thought and force themselves never to deviate from this mental attitude.
Yoritomo said to us: "Common sense should be thus defined:" It is a central sense, toward which all impressions converge and unite in one sentiment--the desire for the truth. "For people who possess common sense, everything is summed up in one unique perception:" The love of directness and simplicity. "All thoughts are found to be related; the preponderance of these two sentiments makes itself felt in all resolutions, and chiefly in the reflections which determine them." Common sense permits us to elude fear which always seizes those whose judgment vacillates; it removes the defiance of the Will and indicates infallibly the correct attitude to assume."
And Yoritomo, whose mind delighted in extending his observations to the sociological side of the question, adds: "Common sense varies in its character, according to surroundings and education." The common sense of one class of people is not the same as that of a neighboring class. "Common sense," he continues, "takes good care not to assail violently those beliefs which tradition has transmuted into principles." However, if direct criticism of those beliefs causes common sense to be regarded unfavorably, it will be welcomed with the greatest reserve and will maintain a certain prudence relative to this criticism, which will be equivalent to a proffered reproach. "Common sense often varies as to external aspects, dependent upon education, for it is evident that a diamio (Japanese prince) can not judge of a subject in the same way as would a man belonging to the lowest class of society." The same object can become desirable or undesirable according to therank it occupies. "Must one believe that common sense is excluded from two such incompatible opinions?" No, not at all. An idea can be rejected or accepted by common sense without violating the principles of logic in the least. " If, as one frequently sees, an idea be unacceptable because of having been presented before those belonging to a particular environment, common sense, by applying its laws, will recognize that the point of view must be changed before the idea can become acceptable." And again, Yoritomo calls our attention to a peculiar circumstance. "Common sense," he says, "is the art of resolving questions, not the art of posing them."When taking the initiative it is rarely on trial." But the moment it is a case of applying practically that which ingenuity, science or genius have invented, it intervenes in the happiest and most decisive manner. "Common sense is the principle element of discernment." Therefore, without this quality, it is impossible to judge either of the proposition or the importance of the subject." It is only with the aid of common sense that it is possible to distinguish the exact nature of the proposition, submitted for a just appreciation, and to render a solution of it which conforms to perfect accuracy of interpretation. "The last point is essential and has its judicial function in all the circumstances of life. Without accuracy, common sense can not be satisfactorily developed, because it finds itself continually shocked by incoherency, resulting from a lack of exactness in the expression of opinions." If we wish to know what the principal qualities are which form common sense, we shall turn over a few pages and we shall read: "Common sense is the synthesis of many sentiments, all of which convergein forming it."
"Reasoning is the art of fixing the relativeness of things." It is by means of reasoning that it is possible to differentiate events and to indicate to what category they belong. "It is the habit of reasoning to determine that which it is wise to undertake, thus permitting us to judge what should be set aside." How could we guide ourselves through life without the beacon-light of reason? It pierces the darkness of social ignorance, it helps us to distinguish vaguely objects heretofore plunged in obscurity, and which will always remain invisible to those who are unprovided with this indispensable accessory--the gift of reasoning. "He who ventures in the darkness and walks haphazard, finds himself suddenly confronted by obstacles which he was unable to foresee." He finds himself frightened by forms whose nature he cannot define, and is often tempted to attribute silhouettes of assassins to branches of trees, instead of recognizing the real culprit who is watching him fromthe corner of the wild forest. "Life, as well as the wildest wilderness, is strewn with pitfalls. To think of examining it rapidly, without the aid of that torch called reason, would be imitating the man of whom we have just spoken." Many are the mirages, which lead us to mistake dim shadows for disquieting realities, unless we examine them critically, for otherwise we can never ascribe to them their true value. "Certain incidents, which seem at first sight to be of small importance,assume a primordial value when we have explained them by means ofreasoning." To reason about a thing is to dissect it, to examine it from everypoint of view before adopting it, before deferring to it or before rejecting it; in one word, to reason about a thing is to act with conscious volition, which is one of the phases essential to the conquest of common sense. "This principle conceded, it then becomes a question of seriously studying the method of reasoning, which we propose to do in the following manner but first it is necessary to be convinced of this truth." Without reason there is no common sense.
Those, who see things through the medium of enthusiasm refuse to recognize that they could be deprived of brilliancy and beauty. The others, those who look upon things from a pessimistic standpoint, never find anything in them save pretexts for pouring out to their hearers tales of woe and misery. All find themselves deceptively allured; some rush toward illusion, others do not wish to admit the positive chances for success, and both lacking moderation, they start from a basis of false premises from which they draw deplorable conclusions, thus defeating future success.
"Is it absolutely indispensable for us to poison ourselves in order to know that such and such a plant is harmful and that another contains the healing substance which destroys the effects of the poison?" We may all possess wisdom if we are willing to be persuaded that the experience of others is as useful as our own." Common Sense such as we have just described it, according to Yoritomo, is the absolute antithesis of dreamy imagination, it is the sworn enemy ofillusion, against which it struggles from the moment of contact.
"The worship of illusion," says Yoritomo, "presents certain dangers to the integrity of judgment, which, under such influence, falsifies the comparative faculty, and sways decision to the side of neutrality."
"The man who allows himself to be influenced by vague dreams," adds the Shogun, "must, if he does not react powerfully, bid farewell to common sense and reason; for he will experience so great a charm in forgetting, even for one moment, the reality of life, that he will seek to prolong this blest moment." He will renounce logic, whose conclusions are, at times, opposed to his desires, and he will plunge himself into that false delight of awakened dreams, or, as some say, day-dreams. "Those who defend this artificial conception of happiness, like to compare people of common sense to heavy infantry soldiers, who march along through stony roads, while they depict themselves as pleasant bird-fanciers, giving flight to the fantastic bearers of wings." But they do not take into account the fact that the birds, for whom they open the cage, fly away without the intention of returning, leaving them thus deceived and deprived of the birds, while the rough infantry soldiers, after many hardships, reach the desired end which they had proposed to attain, thus realizing the joys of conquest. "It is so delightful to foresee a solution which conforms to our desires!"
We must conclude, with Yoritomo, that illusion could often be transformed into happy reality if it were better understood, and if, instead of looking upon it through the dreams of our imagination, we applied ourselves to the task of eliminating the fluid vapors which envelop it, that we might clothe it anew with the garment of common sense.
"In the structure of the mind, inaccuracy brings a partial deviation from the truth, and it does not take long for this slight error to generalize itself, if not corrected by its natural reformer--common sense.
"Because of seeing so often the good destroyed, we wish to believe no more in it as inherent in our being, and rather than suffer repeatedly from its disappearance, we prefer to smother it before perfect development." The greater number of skeptics are only the unavowed lovers of illusion; their desires, never being those capable of realization, they have lost the habit of hoping for a favorable termination of any sentiment." The lack of common sense does not allow them to understand the folly of their enterprise, and rather than seek the causes of their habitual failures, they prefer to attack God and man, both of whom they hold responsible for all their unhappiness.
"All these causes of disappointment can only be attributed to the lack of equilibrium of the reasoning power and, above all, to the absence of common sense, hence we cannot judge of relative values."
With his habitual sense of the practical in life, Yoritomo adds the following: "There are, however, some imaginations which can not be controlled by the power of reasoning, and which, in spite of everything, escape toward the unlimited horizons of the dream." It would be in vain to think of shutting them up in the narrow prison walls of strict reason; they would die wishing to attempt an escape. "We must pity those who live for an illusion as well as those whose imagination has not known how to create an ideal, whose beauty illumines their efforts."
-Excerpts from The Project Gutenberg EBook OF THE MENTAL EFFICIENCY SERIES, COMMON SENSE, HOW TO EXERCISE IT, BY MME. BLANCHARD YORITOMO-TASHI, ANNOTATED BY: B. DANGENNES, TRANSLATED BY: MME. LEON J. BERTHELOT DE LA BOILEVEBIB, 1916

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