Common sense is defined as conformity to practical wisdom and judgment. It makes common sense an uncommon possession because a large section of man cannot be credited with the qualities of wisdom and judgment. There is another view of common sense whose supporters say that there is no sense in making common sense so uncommon. They advance that common sense means capacity to understand things and act in a simple way as we always do. Viewed thus, common sense becomes as plenty as blackberries and possessed by every human being, except perhaps the inborn idiots. A sense of this nature is also available among the animals that may also be said to have common sense.
Connection with Intelligence
Common sense, in reality, is neither so rare nor so common as to be found in animals. Many men, also some animals, may be capable of acting in certain circumstances in a way that may baffle our comprehension. Such action, however, may be the product of some unexplainable instinct. On the other hand, judgment and wisdom are virtues that only one in a million possesses. But common sense is neither instinctive wisdom nor wisdom derived from elaborate judgment. It is a kind of intelligence fortified by experience. Intelligence is available to a large number of people in every country.
But, this alone does not make the whole of common sense. It has to be strengthened by experience in different circumstances of life. Then alone real common sense grows, making its master able to face the challenges of circumstances. Hence, common sense is that virtue is born of the combination of intelligence with experience. Every human being, much less the animals, has neither enough intelligence nor can all learn much from the school of experience. Every man every Tom, Dick, and Harry cannot, therefore, possess common sense in any real meaning.
The error of locating common sense everywhere and in every living being arises from considering it an instinct as many do. The basis of common sense is neither instinct nor learning. But the combination of intelligence and experience makes the possessor competent to hit upon the proper line in particular circumstances. Such a combination does not happen in all men, much less in the animals. Hence common sense is somewhat uncommon. In the whole world, the English are noted for their common sense as Germans for their pursuits of science.
The virtue of Common Sense
Common sense is the most essential virtue. It is one of those qualities which make the distinction between useful and useless man. A man of common sense is quick to perceive, prompt in the decision, and most successful in devising sure ways to achieve the end. When learning fails and intelligence confuses, common sense remains to clear the vision and suggest the way out.
A man of common sense will understand a whole matter from just a passing hint, while one without it will look stupid and feel bewildered even if one is lectured elaborately on what to do. In short, a man of common sense is never at a loss and comes out successful in the midst of all hazards. Truly has Sir Winston Churchill said, referring to the characters of the English people: “If we have any quality, it is common sense? We boast of it and cannot suffer to lose it in any way. It is the architect of power and progress.”
Common sense is also the key to other higher virtues. Intellect can exist without much common sense but such higher faculties of the mind stumble at every step in absence of common sense. The intellectual lacking common sense is thus incapable of combating personal emergencies in life. Where, common sense and intellect combine, we have an instance of genius. A man can well do without intellect but is doomed to failure without common sense. Common sense is the soundest basis on which the structure of man’s intellectual enrichment can rest securely. If therefore, man is to have only one sense and if the rest are beyond his range, let him have common sense.
It is Nature-Gifted
Nature is extremely considerate insofar as she has bestowed on man a liberal gift of common sense. It has made her gift unconnected to the prior possession of education or wealth. Had it been to the contrary, common sense would be a monopoly of the wealthy and the educated few. But man can live well without anything but common sense. Hence the kind and considerate nature has rather been generous in giving this quality to the poorer section of the people. Often pampered children of fortune are found to possess no practical worldly sense, in other words, common sense. But the largest bulk of illiterate and penniless people are often found to possess strong common sense. It is a great favor in which Nature provides a compensation for their loss in birth and wealth.