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Dear philosophers, I would just like to ask if you think "common-sense arguments" are "unphilosophical". I know it depends on what we mean by those two terms, so if you could give me some idea, I'd be very thankful. More power, Selene

June 11, 2006

Response from Nicholas D. Smith on June 13, 2006

I see nothing at all about "common sense" that would make it inherently "unphilosophical." In fact, periodically throughout the history of philosophy there have arisen movements among philosophers in which "common sense" was embraced as providing the very best grounds for philosophical views.

I think the only concern any serious philosopher would have about the use of "common sense" within philosophical contexts would be when whatever is counted as "common sense" becomes valorized in a way that puts it beyond dispute. Philosophers, most of all, are required to "think outside the box," as the saying goes. Just because something is widely accepted does not make it immune to philosophical criticism--indeed, the more widely and uncritically accepted something is, the more likely it is to mask some error that will lead us astray. "The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being," as Socrates said (Plato, Apology 38a). That does not make what most people take for granted wrong or philosophically without value--but it does mean that common opinions should still be subjected to philosophical scrutiny.


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