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Rationality and Common Sense

  • Jacob Joshua Ross (a1)

In everyday arguments we often meet with such phrases as ‘That's rational, it is mere common sense’ used in conjunction to approve of or back up some particular statement. The juxtaposition of these everyday locutions embodies a profound truth, the truth, namely, that the basis of rational communication between human beings is plain common sense. I call this point profound because it has been missed in all the discussions about rationality and its basis that I know; certainly its elusiveness thus seems to indicate that participants in these discussions have not delved deeply enough. But I concede that this truth is simple and obvious, and conclude, therefore, that it has been overlooked only because its very obviousness has been taken, wrongly, to indicate superficiality and inadequacy. In suggesting that it is neither superficial nor inadequate I shall be relying on Wittgenstein's interpretation of Moore's ‘Defence of Common Sense’, to which I shall be adding a particular twist of my own.

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1 Agassi Joseph, ‘Sociologism in the Philosophy of Science’, Metaphilosophy, 3, No. 2 (1972).

2 Particularly The Open Society and Its Enemies (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 5th edn (revised), 1966), Ch. 24, and Conjectures and Refutations (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 4th edn (revised), 1972) in the introduction ‘On the Sources of Knowledge and of Ignorance’.

3 Extreme ‘justificationism’ would seem to lead naturally to W. K. Clifford's famous assertion (in ‘The Ethics of Belief’, originally published in The Contemporary Review (1876)) that ‘It is wrong everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence’.

4 Especially Chisholm's R. M.Theory of Knowledge (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1966), 24 ff.

5 See Hume's Enquiry, Section V, Part 1.

6 See The Open Society and Its Enemies, 231.

7 Ayer Notably A. J., The Problem of Knowledge (London: Penguin 1956), 7475, and Strawson P. F., Introduction to Logical Theory (London: Methuen, 1952), Ch. 9, Part II.

8 Kekes J., ‘Fallibilism and Rationality’, American Philosophical Quarterly, 9, no. 4 (10 1972), 301309.

9 See particularly Lakatos Imre, ‘Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes’, in Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, Lakatos I. and Musgrave A. (eds) (Cambridge University Press, 1970).

10 Polanyi M., Personal Knowledge (London, 1958) especially Ch. V and VI.

11 Kuhn T. S., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2nd edn, enlarged, 1970) and ‘Logic of Discovery or Psychology of Research’, in Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge.

12 Wittgenstein Ludwig, On Certainty, Anscombe G. E. M. and von Wright G. H. (eds) (Oxford: Blackwell, 1969).

13 Wittgenstein Ludwig, Philosophical Investigations (Oxford: Blackwell, 1967), §485.

14 Ibid., §217.

16 Ibid., 200.

17 On Certainty, §253.

18 Philosophical Investigations, 226.

19 A useful discussion of Wittgenstein's ‘form of life’ is to be found in High Dallas M., Language, Persons and Belief (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), Ch. IV. High also notes (p. 101) the similarity here between Wittgenstein and Polanyi.

20 ‘A Defence of Common Sense’, in Contemporary British Philosophy, 2nd series, 1925. See also ‘Proof of an External World’, Annual Philosophical Lecture, Trust Henriette Hertz, Proceedings of the British Academy XXV (1939).

21 Lazerowitz Morris, ‘Moore's Paradox’, in The Philosophy of G. E. Moore, Schilpp P. A. (ed.) (Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern University, 1942).

22 Malcolm Norman, ‘Moore and Ordinary Language’, Ibid., 357, 362.

23 On Certainty, §§96–97.

24 Winch P., ‘Understanding a Primitive Society’, American Philosophical Quarterly, 1 (1964).

25 See further in my The Appeal to the Given (London: Allen and Unwin, 1970), 201205.

26 This paper was originally presented at the First National Conference of Philosophy of the Israeli Philosophical Association at Ben-Gurion University, Beer Sheba. in 1973.

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