"Why, how will you know that?" says she. "By means of a magical talisman God gave to me when I was born, and the name they call it by is Common-sense," said I.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Chapter Six: Common Sense / Commonsense

Commonsense is sound rational thinking in our liminal mode of consciousness. Sound, in plus usage, means adequately authentic for the occasion. Commonsense is affirmative because it adequately endorses the basic requirements of sound rational thinking. In commonsense people avoid negative maneuvers.

Plus root theory, as mentioned in Chapter Four, divides human thinking into four levels of awareness: subliminal, liminal, critical, and others. Subliminal is below conscious awareness, liminal is workaday consciousness, critical is self-conscious. 'Others' is a catch all term for everything that does not fit in the first three categories. Intrinsic refers to realities independent of our consciousness.

These levels shade one into another as does temperature between warm and cold. The labels are designed for convenience of discussion. This chapter concentrates on the liminal level of awareness which is the state of consciousness in which we operate our commonsense.

Define Liminal

Liminal, in the plus system, refers to the level of consciousness between subliminal thinking and critical concentration. Liminal awareness is the state of awareness in which we do most of our everyday thinking and conversation. In liminal awareness we are mindful of what we do but we are not self-consciously concentrating on our thoughts. Liminal thinking is what most of us do most of the time while we are awake. It is more spontaneous than deliberate. It includes chatting, some business, most sports, singing, day dreaming and so on. When we reason well in liminal thinking, it is commonsense.

Define Commonsense

Commonsense is affirmative thinking in workaday consciousness. As plus defined, commonsense is sound rational thinking we do in liminal levels of awareness. (Sound, in plus usage, means adequately authentic for the occasion.) More specifically, commonsense is workaday sound rational thinking and good problem solving skills we acquire through activating logical intuition, employing prudent insight, exercising our ability to observe, tuning felt experience into sound judgment, and developing our conscience. Insofar as we spontaneously apply sound rational thinking to business and discourse we exercise commonsense.

Commonsense is on the level. Commonsense is good-natured, affirmative logical skill we use in addressing problems at hand.

Commonsense is common. Every rationally functioning human has some commonsense.

Through commonsense we activate and apply valid logical know how in our daily business. Using commonsense in conjunction with experience we develop understanding, learn to distinguish true from false in our judging, and acquire the ability to discern the difference between valid and invalid in our reasoning. Commonsense is normal employment of sound logical thinking. It is ordinary affirmative thinking.

Commonsense is impartial. It is also civil, unbiased, and responsible. The crowning glory of commonsense shows in our ability to talk with others in a constructive manner without raising hackles. Another name for commonsense is liminal acumen. Commonsense and liminal acumen are equivalent terms. People uncomfortable with one can use the other.

Other Meanings of Common Sense

In dictionaries and in the verbal market place, ‘common sense’ has other meanings in addition to the definition of commonsense posited here. The term common sense can sometimes mean sentimental feelings, good guesses, and maxims in popular folk culture. From this point of view, sayings such as "A stitch in time saves nine", "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones", "birds of a feather flock together" and "a rolling stone gathers no moss" represent clichés of common sense. Those who deride commonsense as crude banality often have in mind this mundane version.

Over the centuries the term common sense has been used and defined in many different ways. Similar terms have been used in different languages. A well formed analysis would fill several books. This chapter mentions only a few.

Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas Aquinas, in the thirteenth century, used the Latin common sensus to mean an interior sensitive power bringing together the perceptions of our physical senses. Thomistic usage accords with much ancient and medieval philosophy. It is also etymologically sound. Used this way, common sense is a physiological function.

Since the time of St. Thomas, popular usage—in English at least—has metaphorically added an intellectual interpretation that is now the dominant usage. The term commonsense, as employed for this writing, drops the physiological allusion and uses the term commonsense in an intellectual context to mean sound rational thinking in liminal states of awareness. (To convey the intellectual idea, the term liminal acumen is more appropriate, but to fit with everyday language, the term commonsense is popularly used in this manner.)


Descartes extrapolated from the version used by St. Thomas when he wrote:

...the mind does not immediately receive the impression from all the parts of the body, but only from the brain, or perhaps even from one small part of it, viz., that in which the common sense (sensus communis) is said to be, which as often as it is affected in the same way, gives rise to the same perception in the mind, although meanwhile the other parts of the body may be diversely disposed, as is proved by innumerable experiments, which it is unnecessary here to enumerate.

Rene Descartes (1596-1650)

Descartes definition is a different meaning from the definition of common sense as generally used today.

Eighteenth Century

Eighteenth century philosophers tended to defined common sense as our ability to intuit self-evident principles. In so doing, they put the emphasis on judgment rather than valid reasoning and missed the broader usage that the term common sense often implies. Commonsense, in plus definition, includes sound judgment, but extends as well to valid syllogistic form and other basic requirements of affirmative logic.

Commonsense as one word

The term common sense often has meanings and connotations different and sometimes in contradiction to the plus definition stipulated herein. Because common sense has developed so many divergent meanings, we have to be careful in interpreting what people mean when they use the term. We need to keep various meanings separate in our mind and make adjustments as we read. To emphasize which meaning is which, in plus root theory the term commonsense is contracted into one word when the plus meaning is intended.

Commonsense, in the plus usage, is an intellectual, rational activity. It is unbiased workaday affirmative rational thinking and good problem solving skills we acquire through activating logical intuition, employing prudent insight, exercising our ability to observe, tuning felt experience into sound judgment, and developing our conscience.

Sound rational theory augments and supports cultivated commonsense. Commonsense is the operation and application of valid syllogistic feel.

In plus definitions, the term liminal acumen is equivalent in meaning to commonsense. When we use commonsense, logical insight and ethical responsibility work in tandem.

Commonsense is common

Commonsense is not uncommon. Many people have developed a high degree of skill in being logical, informed, trustworthy, and conscientious. To advance our abilities to progress in peace, we need more—not less—commonsense.

Sound vs. Unsound

Commonsense means sound rational thinking in liminal areas of awareness. It is affirmative, not counter affirmative. The term 'sound' in plus usage means adequately authentic for the occasion. Unsound thinking, in plus usage, is malformed, inaccurate and/or unsatisfactory for the occasion.

Value Oriented

Commonsense is value oriented because it inherently supposes that adequately sound (affirmative) rational thinking is better for individuals and for society in general than is unsound rational thinking. Commonsense is better in conducting serious matters that foolish nonsense. (Foolish nonsense has its place for fun and teasing and to lighten up a tense situation but not as a fundamental means of conducting important business.)

In sound rational thinking, we make a concerted effort to prefer true judgments over false judgments, we employ valid forms of reasoning in an unbiased manner, and we seek well-grounded information. In sound rational thinking, we validly distribute middle terms, verify principles, double check facts, and avoid equivocation. A person using commonsense refrains from over-generalizations and tries not to jump to unjustified conclusions. A person using commonsense sticks to the issues at hand and does not attack others motives.

The above mentioned values are rational values. A person using commonsense appreciates these values implicitly if not explicitly.

Liminal, not Explicit

Commonsense thinking is not critically explicit. Liminal is the normal conscious state in which we do most of our everyday thinking and conversation. People using commonsense do not define terms overtly. In commonsense discourse, we don't illustrate our syllogisms on a blackboard. We don't carry an encyclopedia for verifying our statements as we talk. We don't say everything implied in our suggestions.

In the commonsense mode, we recognize that most sound rational thinking in practical matters operates implicitly. In commonsense communication, we say a part of a reasoning set and assume our listener will fill in the rest. We leave unspoken gaps that don't need saying.

Commonsense rides on the rails of affirmative logical intuition, flourishes when backed up by sound critical philosophy and counts on the understanding of others for filling in the unspoken assumptions. —You know what I mean!


The liminal and intuitional aspect of intellectual thinking is so prevalent that the bulk of our reasoning and communication proceeds liminally and much is implied. If we felt required to make every thought in a reasoning set explicit, the result would be hopelessly tedious. Persons with cultivated commonsense know how to say the part that needs saying and how not to say that which does not need saying.

Major moves in negotiation take place in the commonsense mode usually following an intense period of critical study. Although self-conscious critical thinking plays an important role in high quality negotiation, much business is resolved in the commonsense mode.

Sound Critical Reasoning

When we deliberately and explicitly state a reasoning set, it is no longer liminal thinking but, rather, critical thinking in the philosophic mode. If our critical efforts are correct enough to fit the occasion, then our self-conscious evaluation is sound critical thinking.

Both sound critical thinking and commonsense are good. Both use the same rules of logic. It is a mistake to advocate different logical systems for commonsense and for critical philosophy.

The difference between liminal and critical is in the degree of awareness, not in the kind of logic. This is an important point because many prominent philosphers reject this tenet and teach the opposite. For example, Walter Kaufmann in Critique of Religion & Philosophy (1958) said,

Philosophy and art, religion and science, represent a revolt against common sense. They are all prompted in large measure by the aspiration to crack convention and to rise above the two dimensions of every day life.

Walter Kaufmann

Kaufmann was born in Germany in 1921 and became versed in German ideology before he moved to the United States and started his teaching and writing career. An excellent writer with brilliant mind, Kaufmann has translating the leftist German mentality of Hegel, Marx and other radical dialecticians into readable English. His basic ideology opposes essential tenets of affirmative rationality. One of the objectives of plus root study is to establish a method to persuasively refute the negative aspect of Kaufmann’s ideology —and also other ideologies of the same mold.

As in the case of John Dewey mentioned earlier, when plus root theory rejects the totalitarian tainted aspects of Kaufmann’s ideology, it does not reject everything Kaufmann says. To the contrary, Walter Kaufmann presents many ideas that are beneficial and that give impetus to philosophical progress. [See Totalitarian Essay]

Sorting Mentality

Plus evaluation proceeds under the assumption that: we benefit insofar as we can develop a method to sort the harmful from the constructive. When we have well grounded rational skills, we can discuss deep issues with one another in an up beat manner. Plus root theory aims to be a well grounded sorting mentality. We sort ideas of the past so as to make improvements. In developed commonsense, the practice of sorting plus from minus is standard procedure.

Cultivating commonsense is an important step in improving our ability to extract the best of split root philosophers like Kaufmann and John Dewey, without becoming damaged with the elemental mistakes that thread through their works. We will return to this problem again in later chapters.

In the meantime it is important to remember that: the difference between commonsense and sound critical thinking is in the degree of self-conscious reflection we use in focusing upon a given reasoning process. There is a difference between self conscious study of the rules of logic and our ability to use the rules of logic in conversation and discourse. The rules are the same. The logic is the same. The degrees of awareness are different.

When we are involved in a conversation we are normally in the liminal mode of consciousness. It is very difficult to engage in a full blown critically oriented conversation. Very few people can do it well. Most people who try to engage in critical discourse end up mad at each other unless it is under a controlled situation such as a formal debate. [See essay on Scholastic Disputations]

Good enough

Applied commonsense is valid application of sound reasoning to a problem at hand. The term problem, already defined, means a pertinent question needing an answer. A commonsense solution requires sound reasoning used appropriately to find a good enough answer to the question of the moment. A solution, to qualify as sound, does not have to be absolutely perfect. It only has to be good enough for the current occasion. We usually assume this without saying.

Part, not Whole

Commonsense thinking is not the whole of any ones mental life. It is, however, an important aspect of every sane personality. Failing to acknowledge the reality and value of commonsense reduces our abilities to strengthen high quality thinking skills.


Vast reservoirs of cultivated commonsense exist right now in all countries. We already enjoy a world populated with people who have acquired a high degree of personal commonsense. This skill is so prominent around the earth that we (2001) have arrived at the threshold of world peace. We are close to being able to live in a comity of nations. All we need to make a breakthrough to a more peaceful and just interaction among people is enough rational improvement in the right places.

Basic Aspects of Commonsense

A person using their commonsense not only uses logical intuition with keen insight, but also employs (1) judicious observation, (2) suitable guidelines, and (3) legitimately applies conclusions to specified projects. These basic aspects of commonsense are important. Logical intuition has already been discussed in Chapter 5.

Judicious Observation

Judicious observation, plus defined, means our ability to note what is there and to make descriptive judgments to fit the case. A person using commonsense can "tell chalk from cheese" as the Eighteenth century philosophers used to say.

In commonsense reasoning, we know that valid deduction requires true facts as well as sound principles. For example, when we go skating on the canal in the winter, we not only know we should avoid thin ice (major premise), we also know how to recognize the difference between thick and thin and glide around thin spots as we go (minor premise and conclusion). Forming astute judgments about our surroundings and our experiences constitutes a important condition in the cultivation of commonsense.

Suitable Guidelines

Commonsense also employs suitable guidelines. Suitable guidelines are principles trustworthy enough to serve as major premises in our commonsense reasoning. Suitable guidelines can be epistemological, logical, empirical, ontological, technological, etc.

>Suitable elemental guidelines are trustworthy root principles we use as major premises in commonsense reasoning. Suitable logical guidelines are the rules of right reason we use in directing our thoughts according to sound reasoning patterns.

Sometimes we learn suitable guidelines through deliberate, self-conscious reflection and sometimes we pick them up through implications and sometimes we learn them by mulling things over in a liminal mode of thinking. We garner warranted guidelines of sound rational thinking from all fields of study.

Legitimate application.

The guidelines of sound rational thinking must be validly augmented for reliable results. In commonsense we do this.

Commonsense thinking applies suitable guidelines and judicious observations to the matter at hand in a legitimate fashion. Validly applying guidelines requires our ability to use syllogisms in a practical manner. One reason we should study logic is to appreciate how we use syllogisms in every day thinking. Through syllogisms, we unite theory and practice.

Ideologists, semanticists and linguists, who have not learned to recognize the syllogistic connection between theory and practice, riddle philosophy with unnecessary enigmas because they are blind to the most simple logical exercises. In numerous cases, academic thinkers miss the obvious.

Part Three of this study demonstrates in detail how theory and practice unite. It is one of those things we should all learn in lower grades about the time we learn long division and decimal points.

Cultivated Commonsense

Cultivated commonsense is ordinary commonsense raised to a level of polished skill through education both formal and informal. Cultivated commonsense is educated liminal acumen. It is affirmative reasoning in normal workaday thinking that is well developed and applied with mature responsibility. We cultivate commonsense through experience, education, and personal effort. People in more civilized societies should, theoretically, have more mature commonsense than primitive people —but sometimes we wonder.

Insofar as we develop commonsense, we develop liminal appreciation of root verities, we learn how to evaluate ideas and to esteem impartial truth. We encourage development of affirmative logic and we foster fair play. What is more, in cultivating commonsense, we learn to appreciate the same skills in others.

Cultivated commonsense is liminal sound rational thinking raised to a high degree of skill and intellectual competence in problem solving. People with cultivated commonsense are easy to work with and have a pleasant sense of humor. Normal people develop commonsense as they grow, mature, and improve their rational abilities.


Cultivated commonsense, as defined, obviously comes in degrees. All normally functioning adults use some commonsense and are skilled, to some degree, in applying sound rational thinking to matters at hand. Very few, however, have truly polished commonsense in which they consistently use sound rational thinking in all areas of their life.


Cultivating commonsense presupposes experience. Experience, as defined, is felt contact with reality. It is the raw material we use in developing knowledge. An experiment is an intellectually controlled experience in which we consciously participate in a designed event. An experiment is in the critical mode as will be discussed in the next chapter. An experience is personally encountered and lived through.


Cultivating commonsense requires education. Education refers to opportunities available to the learner from the efforts of others. Education is both formal and informal. In order to learn, we must have help from other people. The quality of education an individual receives varies dramatically from person to person depending on time, place, culture, and family.

Personal Effort

Personal effort is the commitment an individual puts into learning from experience and taking advantage of his/her educational opportunities. In today's world, educational opportunities abound and, as a result, personal effort is an enormous factor in cultivating commonsense. It speaks well of human nature that large pools of cultivated commonsense exist around the world.

Cultivated commonsense is a positive, desirable attribute. It refers to straightforward, everyday, wholesome, sound rational thinking and communication that has been developed to degrees of social usefulness. To function well, more complex societies require higher degrees of development of sound rational thinking than simpler societies.

Cultivating commonsense demands personal effort.


Even though cultivated commonsense is not taught directly as a subject in school, sound elemental principles and rules of right reason are inculcated into and encouraged in our thinking in many ways in modern educational systems. For example, children in school are taught the difference between a complete and an incomplete sentence. This is an elemental lesson and helps students clarify their own understanding. Also, students take true/false tests and in so doing pick up many clues on how to distinguish sound from unsound judgment and to notice the difference between valid and invalid deduction. Youngsters are encouraged to increase their vocabulary and, in so doing, promote their abstraction skills. The complex process of developing reading skills also develops commonsense.

Our society, filled with factual information, stimulates intellectual thinking in thousands of ways. The more any of us studies mathematics and other sciences, the more we sharpen our reasoning powers. Conversations with our friends and traditions we inherit contribute to the cultivation of our commonsense.

Appreciate what we have

To understand our modern society, we need to appreciate the prodigious amount of sound rational thinking in the form of cultivated commonsense that is learned from tradition, experience and schooling. Commonsense abounds.

When we first meet a stranger, before we start visiting, we assume the person already shares with us a common understanding of many sound rational principles. We assume, before we start talking, that we agree on numerous elemental verities presupposed in valid reasoning procedures. In introductory conversations we test the water to discover where our agreements are strong. Every one who functions in society has some commonsense.

However, the cultivation of commonsense to the degree where we can successfully negotiate peaceful progress requires fine tuned problem solving skills. Root errors diminish rational competence and blemish the talents we need to meet the challenges at hand. The more technical our society, the more skill we need.

Commonsense is a peculiar virtue. We seem to have it and then again we don't. At times commonsense appears as the fabric of society, and at other times it's as if the whole world has gone mad. In reality, it's a matter of degrees. The more we cultivate commonsense, the more it comes into dominance.

Due to human frailties there will always be limits on how far we can go in developing sound rational thinking, but we can bring commonsense into play enough to avoid violence and cruel prejudice and to make improvements.

John Adams

John Adams (1735-1826), in arguing against Turgot's grandiose constitutional schemes, made a pitch for commonsense. He wrote,

"...the way to improve society and reform the world is to enlighten men, spread knowledge, and convince the multitude that they have, or may have, sense, knowledge, and virtue. Declamations against the cunning politicians and the ignorance, folly, inconstancy, or effrontery of the multitudes will not do it."

John Adams (1735-1826)

Adams here struck a note that rang over and over in early American philosophy. Realistic acknowledgment of the good sense of people individually has a way of increasing the good sense in the community as a whole.

Modern Conundrums

How has Adams' recommendation fared in the 200 plus years since he made that remark? The answer is conflicting and explains many of our modern conundrums. On the one hand, we in the US have cultivated commonsense to a high degree among citizens as a whole. Encouraged to think for themselves and to shoulder their own responsibilities, ordinary people have helped improve society and have done their share of reforming the world.

New Dialectical Movements

On the other hand, totalitarian oriented ideologies have taken hold that disparage the values of plain commonsense. New dialectical movements have come into play that arouse antagonism and stir up prejudice. These divisive campaigns reinstate the old ways that Adams deplored.

Movements that incorporate counter affirmative themes into the rational style of society are like osteoporosis. They slowly hollow out the bones and society does not see the weakness until suddenly the bones break. If the osteoporosis has gone too far, healing can be a difficult process.

As plus root theory develops it explores the difference between affirmative values and totalitarian values. How can commonsense hold its own when surrounded by the forces of intrigue? [See Totalitarian Essay]

Root Errors

Root errors do not eradicate commonsense but rather they sap it. In a weakened condition, people who should know better, often do vain, even deplorable, things. By correcting the errors that cause the problem, mature commonsense becomes more forceful and we improve our abilities to negotiate difficulties.

Because we are gifted with logical intuition and the ability to cultivate commonsense, we can we hope to correct root errors. If we humans did not possess an intuitive, natural logical insight to help distinguish sound from unsound rational thinking, once root errors become lodged in our thought systems, we would have no way to remove them. But, fortunately, we do have this talent and we can fix at least some mistakes in rational theory that damage our problem solving abilities.

Commonsense is not magic. It develops out of our intellectual ability to develop affirmative logical intuitions.

Commonsense Continues

Despite infusions of negative ideology, we in the modern world continue to cultivate commonsense in many ways. Across the land, plain commonsense often comes to the top and we proceed with the business of life in an affirmative manner. Even when facing adversity, a noticeable commonsense movement continues and supports the requirements of right reason. This is the foundation of civil discourse.

In the USA, a commonsense movement has had a wholesome influence since our beginning. Many of us believe that rational fair play expresses the best our country has to offer. It brings into the light affirmative propensities that belong to mankind around the world. Insofar as our county operates in its commonsense mode, people from everywhere feel comfortable here. When individuals become biased and prejudiced, the opposite happens.

Even though we in the USA are struggling with serious philosophical problems, our future is far from hopeless because the candid commonsense movement is still alive and well. We, as a nation, have not lost touch with our origins. If we turn off TV and talk to people about their family and their business and subjects they know, we find cultivated commonsense abounding.

Is there Enough?

But is there enough cultivated commonsense in our land? There may be enough to avoid collapse. However, increase in violence and escalation in feelings of alienation among citizens who believe they are victims of an imperial government is growing, not declining. This is a bad sign. We need more cultivated commonsense, not less.


We could easily upgrade commonsense by promoting theories and philosophies that more vigorously support basic requirements of sound rational thinking.

As John Adams's said, the simple process of recognizing commonsense helps cultivate commonsense.

As we notice the sound rational thinking we already do, we tend to bring forth conditions that increase rational quality.

Competence builds on competence. By correcting root errors that discourage the development of commonsense, we build a more healthy intellectual environment and improve negotiation quality. Cultivating commonsense advances our abilities to progress in peace.