Every now and then philosophers discover the virtues of common sense. This surprises their friends and delights their enemies. The surprise arises from philosophy's traditional commitment to identifying and repairing the cognitive errors of the vulgar: common-sense language in need of clarification; common-sense reason requiring rigorous replacement; common-sense judgments marked down for their superficiality, incoherence and unstable foundations. Yet no academic tradition is without its subversives, and sporadic philosophical celebrations of ordinary cognition and judgments give occasion for Schadenfreude. If you are already disposed to think that academic philosophy isn't much use in life-as-it's-commonly-lived, you can now cite a few philosophical texts to support your case: philosophy, after all, adds nothing to what everybody already knows, nor can it improve on how everybody already reasons. If the Man on the Clapham Omnibus, or your granny in the kitchen, reason pretty well just as they are, then they really don't need a philosophical weatherman to tell which way the wind's blowing. The common fly already knows its way, in and out of the fly-bottle, and anywhere else it wants to go.
LRB 14 January 2002 | PDF Download