Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thomas Reid’s and Thomas Pain’s Common Sense

Thomas Reid was a philosopher (1710-1796) who moved from being a pastor to professorship at King’s College in Aberdeen in 1752.  After completing his dissertation he founded the Scottish School of Common Sense with his 1764 book entitled An Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense. He eventually replaced Adam Smith at the University of Glasgow.

His philosophies didn’t die in the university but continued to spread around the world causing new structures to develop. Modern day America owes as much to Thomas Reid as it does to Thomas Pain. One European concept of Common Sense led to the American Revolution and the shot heard around the world. 

The School of Common Sense was particularly important in Scotland as an almost national philosophy. It is a philosophy which believes that most understanding is within the grasp of the common human mind.  The average human being, with some capacity to make judgments, can determine the general truths and falsehoods of arguments. Only when the information is complex and difficult to grasp does common sense fail. 

The philosophy basically states that most people have daily experiences to provide them information for survival. They have little need to dig into the finite details of arguments. These arguments are the existence of the self, the existence of real objects, and general basic religious/moral principles. We know them to be true because we experience them on a common level. 

The details of how we know we exist, why basic values work, and the nature of world objects don’t really enter the conscious nature of the average man. They take such assumptions on a basic level and rarely question the nature of existence. Spending energy on such concepts is counterproductive for those trying to eat and squeak out an existence. 

Each person exists within a societal order based within their cultural perspective. They have a difficult time questioning their personal position within that social order or the social order itself. Yet without questioning the perceived right of Kings to rule men Thomas Reid’s common sense philosophy would not have made it into Thomas Pain’s Common Sense pamphlet designed to change that social structure (1776).    

"We have it in our power to begin the world over again." -- Thomas Paine, Common Sense

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