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Why is common sense so uncommon?

Updated on November 29, 2011
Using an image of a beautiful woman in an article about common sense - It is common sense not to do so, or is it?
Using an image of a beautiful woman in an article about common sense - It is common sense not to do so, or is it? | Source

"Oh but that's just common sense!" If you've heard this phrase floating around, it is very likely that it's just the phrase that is common, not common sense itself! That brings us to the question of why common sense is such an uncommon virtue. Was it supposed to be an irony in the first place? Is it a doctrined fallacy? Or has common sense become so redundant with times that it's become uncommon? Let's take a look at what is common sense and why it is not common.

What is common sense?

Now there's a whole range of discourse on what is common sense. From Thomas Paine, John Locke, Aristotle to Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, a whole bunch of theologians, philosophers and social scientists have propounded their thoughts on what is common sense and why it elusively remains uncommon. During the French Revolution, Voltaire said that common sense is the most uncommon of all and humankind has remained perplexed ever since.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines Common sense as "the basic level of practical knowledge and judgment that we all need to help us live in a reasonable and safe way" The Merriam-Webster defines it as "sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts. Forget the definitions, here a few common features of common sense that you'll be able to easily relate to.

  • Common sense stems from experiences, actions, consequences that are commonly observed
  • Common sense is expected to help human beings to reach reasonably sound conclusions
  • Common sense is usually derived from mistakes made by others
  • Basic common sense statements are usually made to cater to the general safety and security of humankind for example, you cannot fly off a tower's terrace nor you walk out of a train in motion, well at least not yet

If common sense is supposedly so commonplace, people wouldn't be doing obviously things like committing robberies, hurting others, committing suicides, smoking cigarettes or spending more money than what they can earn right? So how did we end up saying so casually that common sense is becoming uncommon in the first place? Let's find out.

Why is common sense so uncommon?

Think again before coming to the conclusion that common sense is uncommon. Apart from a few very basic universal laws, there is really nothing definitive that you can call common sense because these stimuli are filtered through a range of experiences. Is there really a pool of common universal experience that allows us to say that common sense is becoming uncommon? Let's see why common sense is uncommon, or is it?

1) Common sense means different things for different people

A major reason why common sense seems to be uncommon is because it doesn't mean the same for everybody. For example, when you make a statement such as "What a stupid thing she did! It was common sense for her to say no" Well, that can be a matter of great debate because you have benchmarked what common sense is according what you think. This definition of common sense comes from your personal, cultural and physical circumstances. Other people's common sense quotient cannot be scaled according to yours.

2) Common sense may mean defying universal rules

Let's observe a few universal sounding examples of common sense.

  • Don't touch a hot iron
  • Don't take food from strangers
  • Don't wander out at night alone

The same examples can be termed as common sense turning uncommon, when they are put into a certain context.

Don't touch a hot iron - The phone rang while I was ironing my clothes. I wasn't paying attention and I put the iron to my cheek instead of the phone.

Don't take food from strangers – I met my best friend's brother's fiancée's younger sister at the bus stop. We got talking and she offered me a Lindt which I simply couldn't resist.

Don't wander out at night alone – The party ended at 2 am and my boyfriend was dropping me home. Suddenly he got a call from his parents to attend to some urgent work. I urged him to go and I came back home alone.

Now where has the common sense disappeared?

3) In modern times, we tend to overcomplicate things

Because a million more dimensions having entered modern life, there seems to be no singular answer to one question. There are confusing options, alternatives and unlimited choices for everything – whether it is looking for something on Google, shopping for a Levi's denim or thinking what to eat for dinner. Take for instance, this question which would otherwise demand a common sense answer.

"My tooth is aching. What should I do?"

Common sense answer: Go to the dentist

Uncommon sense answer: You're lying because you don't want to do to school tomorrow

4) A matter of assumption

This is a classic case of looking everywhere except under the light. Often, our common sense doesn't prevail because of our assumptions that don't allow us to use straightforward and logical thinking. Let's take a classic example. Detectives searching for a lost pin in the dark will never look under the lamppost where there is a patch of light, because they assume that if the pin was lying there, they would have already seen it. Hence uncommon sense prevails and they start looking just about everywhere else, except under the light.

5) Education supposedly steals common sense

Why is common sense so uncommon and on the decline? Many people believe that education is the cause. Education purges us of our natural instincts, ways of thinking and intuition. It plants seeds of artificial intelligence, whether it is thinking in the cause and effect style, thinking rationally after scanning options or spurring imaginative options to solve modern day problems. That's why, answers given by children are so full of wit and common sense. Often, adults are completely stunned by the sheer transparency of a child's reply and realize how they themselves would never have been able to come up with such an answer.

6) Being too close to the situation

It's easy to opine on someone else's situation and say "How did you not think of this? It was common sense, you idiot!" But it might be difficult to put the said common sense into practice when you yourself are in that situation. Being too close to a situation, emotion or a piece of work is often the victims of why common sense becomes uncommon.

7) Common sense speaks up too late

Common sense seems uncommon not because it is absent but because it appears often in hindsight. The lessons are learnt after the experience takes place and hence common sense follows suit. Here is a perfect quote by Philip Marlowe that summarizes this.

"Common sense always speaks too late. Common sense is the guy who tells you ought to have had your brakes relined last week before you smashed a front end this week. Common sense is the Monday morning quarterback who could have won the ball game if he had been on the team. But he never is. He's high up in the stands with a flask on his hip. Common sense is the little man in a grey suit who never makes a mistake in addition. But it's always somebody else's money he's adding up"


8) Depends on who is judging and evaluating common sense

If all the kids were asked who the evaluators of their common sense are, they'd jointly say 'parents'. Students would say 'teachers' and subordinates would say 'boss'. If you closely observe, the blanket statement of common sense being uncommon is made not on the basis of the actions taken, but to establish the hierarchy relationship. Consider a few examples.

"It's common sense to start a new answer on a new page" says the teacher to the student.

"The machinery needs to be sent for repair. You don't need to buy new tools. Use your common sense" says the factory owner to the employee.

"It's common sense to take enough money before your camping trip. No wonder you fell into trouble" says the parent to the child.

Whether there is any basis for these people to make such statements about not having common sense is a separate debate. In true sense, it's purely about maintaining a one-upmanship.

9) Personal and common social experience is limited

You might think common sense is uncommon these days because it doesn't fall in the realm of what you define as common sense. For someone else, they could be perfectly practicing common sense. Considering that common sense is an outcome and a blend of social experience and personal circumstances, it is, at the end of the day, limited. Why do we not have any common sense related to what to do on Mars or how to deal with ultra sonic radiation? That's because mankind is still not exposed to that sort of social experience. And hence, common or uncommon sense in that domain is left undefined.

10) People have realized that there may not be anything like a sense which is 'common'

As political intrigues in the world increase, as nations face a backlash with crumbling economic situations, as generation gaps and social landscapes change and as the waters of the Arctic start melting to eventually drown the world, people are slowly realizing that there is nothing like common sense, forget common sense being uncommon. The purpose with which common sense came into being can now be replaced by gathering empirical and statistical data on big issues like "Should the US go to war with Iraq?" And for smaller, trivial daily decision making, an open, objective, bias free mental makeup must be conceived. This would replace the need for common sense to exist.


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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      i admit i haven't read the whole article but surely if the phrase(its common sense) is common, then so is common sense, assuming the person whom uttered the phrase has common sense?

    • Mike Robbers profile image

      Mike Robbers 

      7 years ago from London

      It's common sense that we all liked this hub while it's not common sense that we didn't all comment on it!

      Voted up, that was a good hub :)

    • Ruchira profile image


      7 years ago from United States

      I applaud you on this awesome common sense hub. Loved it!

      I agree not many have this common sense and your reasons are good enough to validate it.

      voted up with all the adjectives!

    • kj force profile image


      8 years ago from Florida

      well written hub...funny though, how many people lack common sense..

      guess we can't assume it's a born trait !!!!!

    • profile image

      Civil War bob 

      8 years ago

      Common sense for humans is limited to the ability to eat, bleat, excrete, and sleep...the abilities we have at birth. All other behaviors are learned experience. Actually wrote a hub about it 6 weeks ago, but according to the note below, I'm not allowed to promote it, even though I don't get paid for them. Oh, well, that's one of our common learned experiences. Have a great day!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I agree with Alecia that common sense may not be of the same level to everyone. What one can grasp easily as right or wrong may not occur to someone else in the same speed. Actions have consequences.

      Awesome stuff, princesswithapen, thank you!

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 

      8 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Common sense is different to everyone and like Becky said schools teach us to memorize not really learn reason. But common sense is acquired in so many ways, that what's common sense to me may not be to someone else.

      This is a very interesting hub and a great read!

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 

      8 years ago from Hereford, AZ

      I think the perception of 'a lack of common sense' is actually a lack in thinking. Schools do not teach our children to think, they teach them to memorize and if they think outside the box, it is wrong. If they taught them to actually reason, common sense would be more common.

    • tom hellert profile image

      tom hellert 

      8 years ago from home


      you just have not worked w some of my of them couldn't make the correct decision if they only had one option...


    • princesswithapen profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago


      "..we throw out all of our life experience to make a terrible decision.."

      This is exactly the reason why many managers and bosses may not be the most knowledgeable, but sure think twice before making a decision. Most of the times, managers and bosses base their decisions on common sense.

      Thanks for the vote and I'm glad you found this interesting.


    • Phil Plasma profile image

      Phil Plasma 

      8 years ago from Montreal, Quebec

      Your point about common sense being a lot more obvious in hindsight is so true. In the moment, it seems, we throw out all of our life experience to make a terrible decision only to then later look back and realize, had we used our 'common sense', we'd have decided way differently.

      Great hub earning you a vote up and interesting.

    • tom hellert profile image

      tom hellert 

      8 years ago from home


      even a blind pig finds an acorn once in a while


    • princesswithapen profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago


      Splendid. You should quote that!


    • tom hellert profile image

      tom hellert 

      8 years ago from home


      common sense like loose change if you loo it you never know where it went and often you can't seem to find it....


    • princesswithapen profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Hi wilderness

      What you've pointed out here is of most importance because what one generation might consider common sense, another may not. Makes us wonder what 'common sense' today will be like for future generations, doesn't it?


    • princesswithapen profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago


      Yes, the 'smart way' you talk about is often replaced by 'the right way' laid out in books and tutorials. Wonder how this is going to affect generations to come!


    • wilderness profile image

      Dan Harmon 

      8 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      Like Voltaire,I have long held that common sense is the most common thing around. Far too often it comes from a single action experienced or from others that have passed it down through generations, changing it to the point that it might be the opposite of what it started out to be.

    • tom hellert profile image

      tom hellert 

      8 years ago from home


      Common sense really is not all that common these days- I have been tryingto get my kids to think the smart way (a common sense approach) to issues. So my oldest started reading common Sense by Thomas!!!


    • princesswithapen profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Hi icciev

      Thanks heaps for your feedback. I'm glad you liked this hub.


      Yes, it'd be difficult to imagine why or how sane people would lack common sense. But then again, it's difficult to imagine why and how people refrain from using it too! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.


      Times, perception, technology, society and much more are ever changing and ever evelving elements that will keep this tussle between research and results going on and on and on.

      Slightly Bonkers

      ".... I suppose some people just leave their common sense at home because it is simply easier to let someone else take the blame for your mistakes..." Haha!

      Yes, it is the 21st century and the need to "spell out everything to every one" has become extremely evident. For instance, the last thing a coffee house would want is to be sued by a customer because their coffee was too hot and it burned them when it spilled.

    • Slightly Bonkers profile image

      Slightly Bonkers 

      8 years ago from Ireland

      Great hub and I ask myself the exact same question all the time! When I read user manuals for example who became ridiculous over the last years just because every "eventuality" has to be stated.

      When it comes to the work force I suppose some people just leave their common sense at home because it is simply easier to let someone else take the blame for your mistakes. Not taking on responsibilities is the synonym these days for not having common sense. Some simply don't have it, some I think just want to see how far they can get with that behaviour i.e. sueing somebody for something stupid just because a tiny detail (common sense) has not been mentioned on a package, instruction etc.

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image


      8 years ago

      A lot of research results are revealed and people say, Oh, but that is common sense. well, not necessarily. You have to back things up with research-and sometimes the results go against common sense.

    • Admiral_Joraxx profile image


      8 years ago from Philippines

      Yeah! Common sense is actually inherent. I really believe we all have it. It's just that people are often not interested in using it. Well, great post here! 1 vote up.=)

    • icciev profile image


      8 years ago from Kuwait

      That was funny interesting and Amazing, it's a common sense to vote up.

    • jkhan profile image


      8 years ago

      Immortality and common sense;

      "To become truly immortal a work of art must surpass all human limits. Logic and common sense will only interfere but once these barriers are broken it will enter the realms of childhood visions and dreams" - Cherokee


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