Common Sense: A Theory of Inherent Knowledge

This is a philosophical exploration of common sense and a theory of inherent knowledge, such that learning can be understood as universal. ‘What can I come to know ?’. As a starting point I have chosen ‘to look to the teacher of the thinker you admire’ as a place to evolve new perspectives and utilise convenient frameworks to create scaffoldings in my attempt to formulate this thesis of common sense. Admiring the stories written about Socrates, I thought it would be interesting to take the peers and teachers of Socrates as pivot points to generate thinking.


This is an exploration of common sense so my starting point is knowledge. I contend that we can come to know things; that we regularly use common instruments – tools available to us all – to access knowledge, and that gaining knowledge is a communitive process. Implicit in this is a sense of community, other, communication, also of language. Through observation and communication, it is possible to arrive at common sense of things.


presocratic philosophers

The Pre Socratics: A Primer to Conversation

Protagoras was the oldest of the sophists whose main focus was civic virtue. This is the thing he felt that citizens needed most to know. This he viewed as a practical subject and practical success was, for him, the chief aim as he felt human ability to attain absolute truth was limited.


Opinions, he felt, are tested by the practicality they exhibit at work. Those that work are acceptable; those that fail are not. This foreshadowed the criterion of falsifiability which Karl Popper formulated to demarcate scientific knowledge over two millennia later.


Georgias was the second most noted of the Sophists. He agreed with Protagoras that human’s have no absolute knowledge. Regarding knowledge of the external world, Gorgias is said to have maintained that there is no evidence producible to show that anything exists.


In Gorgias’ formulation of knowledge, there is a gap between objects and the mind, and another gap between the mind’s knowledge and the language which would express it.


He believed that these gaps were unbridgeable, therefore each individual is shut up within walls of their own life and that human experience plays upon the surface of things. Hence ‘sophistry’ has come to mean the superficial treatment of any matter and the making of verbal distinctions that are of no real importance.


This common usage of ‘sophistry’ holds in it the possible apathies and fatalisms which I will come to deal with later, but in this conceptual scheme there seems at least a tacit acknowledgement of ‘community in the formation of knowledge’, in that an expression is sought in language can be seen as interaction with an implied other.


Hippias was a Sophist who’s interests included astronomy mathematics, literature, music, archaeology and politics. He was reputed to be elegant and proud, claiming to be able to deliver a spontaneous address on any subject and that he was able to make all the things he wore. He charged high fees for lectures and instruction striving to make his pupils successful in debate by putting emphasis on the meanings of words and the importance of style. He also developed a system for aiding the memory. His emphasis on the role of the meanings of words and style again connect planely with language and communication.


Lev Vygotsky
Lev Vygotsky

This focus on the importance of language and communication is a common theme which linguists and educationalists have theorized around, partly in socio-cultural theory by the likes of constructivists such as Lev Vygotsky.


More rarefied is the examination of memory in knowledge which is compound in its nature and factors into various ‘artifices’. Of primary interest here is the examination of commonality and it’s interplay with proximity and exchange in the formulation of knowledge. Vygotsky discusses the ‘zone of proximal development’ and the importance of play in learning.


Prodicus was a Sophist who’s special interest was that of correct terminology. He suggested that the sophist combined the virtues of the statesman and philosopher, and he gave instruction both in rhetoric and oratory. Socrates is said to have studied with Prodicus and sent pupils to learn with him.


Prodicus advocated moderate length for speeches. In ethics, he taught that the good is relative to the user, as is the case of wealth. In religion, he held the opinion that the gods were derived from beneficial forces in Nature.


Here again we find the theme of language occurring in the discussion of knowledge, where correct terminology is a move towards the agreed upon understanding, and thus a ‘common sense’. He expresses the need for brevity which can be interpreted as an attempt to move towards clarity, and hence consensus in communication.


Cultural Relativism/Post Structuralism

Knowing both that the world of phenomena may not be both articulately described in a general formula and neatly summarized at once. Something must be said of abstraction and figurativeness. I argue it is the motion we must set ourselves on between these extremes in theory which is useful in trying to arrive at an understanding of a commonsense of something.


We move between these extremes to gain impressions of what we are exploring. It is not the finding of a single point on this landscape of abstraction to figurative nature that gives us a useful and tangible sense of meaning but rather the movement through and between points on the landscape from which a holistic representative perspective evolves in a meta process.


In an analogical way, this dynamic of motion, rather than fixed point can be explored in art such as literature or sculpture. In the activity of engaging with these art forms we explore sequential perspectives incorporated into an accumulative landscape of knowledge and increasingly holistic understanding of phenomena and ideas.


In literature, it is not the fixture of an observer on a given word which reveals its whole sense, but rather the passage through a text which summons the animus of the work embodied in written language.


In a related way, it can be argued that it is the journey and options generated around, amongst and through the culture we apply perception to – rather than a taking a fixed point of view of the culture – that reveals the intrinsic nature of the work itself. It is by walking around a sculpture both changing and adding to our perspective of a sculpture that we come to understand it as a work.


This process enables comparative and syllogistic thinking, and sets up a scaffolding upon which a dynamic understanding can be forged from experience and experiment. We arrive at a nominalistic (a general understanding insinuated in words) understanding in language by working through the irregular, fuzzy nature of experience and anchoring to a fixed datum – a focus of perspective upon which to build common language; the Sui Generis of the discussion. Sui Generis is a Latin phrase, meaning “of its own kind/genus” thus “unique in its characteristics”.


We therefore evolve a cartography of sorts which can be dealt with through the negation within affirmation towards the abstract. We move through the fuzziness of experience via what could be described as a process of affirmation, negation, conversation and sublimation towards increasingly reliable knowledge. A shift of state is conveyed in the descriptive word sublimation.


Science As A Communitive Process

Knowledge building is generated from cooperative behaviours. Here the word ‘science’ is used in the sense of the broad definition of the Latin root ‘scientia’ meaning ‘knowledge’, and the methodologies of how we arrive at increasingly reliable knowledge is the compound techne (Techne from the Greek translated as “craftsmanship”, “craft”, or “art”), part of which is formed through a collaborative process.


‘Scientist’ here thus takes on a much more universal perspective of those who work with knowledge acquisition as a focus. Knowledge building is essentially the same as science, and knowledge building is a communitive process – this we are all engaged in these premises every day, all of the time.


Here it is taken that these premises are already owned (inherently a part of everyone’s experience), however not necessarily understood to be owned and shared in by the Aleph set – ‘All’; the universal set or infinite grouping. It is only within this affirmative infinite universal open set that we might approach knowledge of articulated finite sets to codify into expressions experience of phenomena upon which we can build consensus; a consensus which sublimates into an iterative process of affirmation, negation, and conversation. Reconfiguring the bounds of expertise creates a seismic shift in our consciousness from the individual to the general, and back again.


Central to making these notional schema work are the ideas of co-production and mutual ownership. The sharing of knowledge syntheses and data sets is a stimulus to exponential, individual and societal advance. Gerald A. Carlino describes the positive effects of ‘knowledge spillover’ as a ‘non-rival knowledge market externality’ that has a spillover effect of stimulating technological improvements in a neighbour through one’s own innovation.

knowledge spillover

By driving an understanding of conventions of differences and relationships between data, methodology, increasingly reliable knowledge, falsification and different types of information; people can realise the tools we need to arrive at a common sense of things.


This enables a more rounded, balanced and integrated knowledge base which can benefit society (non-rival knowledge market) as composed by individual contributions and feed forward into individual enquiries.


The need to get away from fixed specialisation and compulsion of compartmentalisation of knowledge viewpoints is important in all synthesis of understanding. Information flows and the necessary recapitulation of tributaries are important parts of developing systemic perspectives.


How we do this is through the socialisation of knowledge as described above in the sense of knowledge markets. Again, community, and ‘to commune’, features in knowledge – a plurality of experience is better than an isolated perspective, and we gain that plurality through meeting other people/perspectives and phenomena.


Read Part One: The Common Instruments of Knowledge