Common Sense


only_common_sense.jpgDefining a concept, especially one that is as universal yet as complex as common sense, is challenging. Many theorists, writers and philosophers have similar but slightly different definitions.

In their paper "The relationship between ethics, common sense and rationality," Christie Morgan and Palaniappan Thiagarajan define common sense as a part of ethics and rationality. "Ethics is the internal belief of what is right and wrong. Common sense judges that belief before rationality acts on it. Common sense is a reasonably understood term in American minds while rationality is less so." [1]

From more of a business/management perspective, Edward P Kinsey states "Common sense is based on simple beliefs that have been proven over the ages and passed from generation to generation. Common sense can be, and should be, used to formulate the basis of good principles that define our integrity." [2]

Joseph Z. Nitecki believes the average dictionary definition of common sense to be a good example of typical common sense thinking, providing a superficially complete and easy to understand on-the-surface description of the concept. Unfortunately, however, a definition of common sense as a concept doesn’t really help us better understand how the concept is made up, or how useful it is in every day life. [3]

Viewpoints involved with common sense
Nitecki looks at common sense from three different viewpoints. [4]

1. Common sense generalizations. It’s not possible to demonstrate the nature of common sense propositions by referring to evidence or specific researched information. [5]

Under this first viewpoint, Nitecki includes a perspective by Clifford Geertz (1975). Geertz uses five terms that look at common sense. [6]

  • Naturalness – Geertz states this is the most fundamental. Common sense is seeing things as they are in the simple nature of the case or situation.
  • Practicalness – This is more obvious to the naked eye than others on Geertz’s list. This stresses the ability to make a good decision part of common sense.
  • Thinness – This attribute is "rather hard to formulate in more explicit terms" and involves the tendency to represent issues as "what they seem to be, neither more nor less."
  • Immethodicalness – There are often inconsistencies among common sense statements.
  • Accessibleness – This "is simply the assumption, in fact the insistence, that any person with faculties reasonably intact can grasp commonsense conclusions."

2. Common sense traditions. The common sense traditions are based on communal experiences in the past. They provide an ethical guidance in making a decision by citing existing standards of value; and refer "to beliefs which are generally accepted in their own culture as needing no justification, as being so obviously true that one rarely finds occasion even to formulate them." [7]

Adler recommends a universality of common sense ethics by insisting that all real goods are common goods, the same for all men because their needs are identical. However, he defines common sense not as a traditional summum bonum, the highest good, but as a totum bonum, the whole of good. [8]

The common sense person is practical, making his or her choices in terms of means and ends, choosing the most effective and efficient means to reach desired goals. [9]

3. Common sense processes. The common sense processes are always based on past experience. These experiences can be verified and refer to realistically analyzed actions. They can be measured in terms of the probability that the expected results will be achieved. In this sense, common sense processes are useful in some operational decisions, and are also accepted in theories of management, because they can be supported or rejected based on experience. The common sense viewpoint adds a social perspective to the decisions being considered by placing the issues being looked at in the context of the group’s culture. [10]

If a common sense approach suggests a solution similar to the one intended in the first place, Nitecki wrote, it provides a reinforcement for that decision; if it negates it, the common sense advice serves as a warning of probable negative consequences of implementing that decision. And finally, if the common sense notion seems to be irrelevant to the situation at hand, it will be misused, if incorporated in that decision process. [11]
  1. ^


    Morgan, C. R., & Thiagarajan, P. (2009). The relationship between ethics, common sense and rationality. Management Decision, 47(3), 481
  2. ^


    Kinsey, E. P. (2004). Where has all the common sense gone? Mid-American Journal of Business, 19(2), 7.
  3. ^


    Nitecki, J. Z. (1987). In search of sense in common sense management. Journal of Business Ethics, 6, 639.
  4. ^


    Nitecki, J. Z. (1987)
  5. ^


    Nitecki, J. Z. (1987)
  6. ^


    Geertz, C. (1975). Common sense as a cultural system. The Anitoch Review, 33(1), 5.
  7. ^


    Nitecki, J. Z. (1987)
  8. ^


    Adler, Mortimer, J., The Time of Our Lives; The Ethics of Common Sense. New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970, p. 159.
  9. ^


    Nitecki, J. Z. (1987)
  10. ^


    Nitecki, J. Z. (1987)
  11. ^


    Nitecki, J. Z. (1987)