COMMON SENSE AND ACTION
From: Common Sense How To Exercise It
These qualities are two relatives very near of kin; but, just for this
reason, they must not be confounded.
While common sense is applied to all the circumstances of life, practical
sense is applicable to useful things.
Common sense admits a very subtle logic which is, at times, a
Practical sense reasons, starting from one point only; viz., material
It is possible for this sense to be spoiled by egotism, if common sense
does not come to its assistance.
It is by applying the discipline of reasoning to practical sense that it
modifies simple sense perception by urging it to ally itself with logic,
which unites thought to sentiment and reason.
"The association of common sense and practical sense is necessary," says
Yoritomo, "in order to produce new forms, at the same time restraining
the imagination within the limits of the most exact deductions and of the
most impartial judgment."
Science is, in reality, a sort of common sense to which the rules of
reasoning are applied, and is supported by arguments which practical
sense directs into productive channels.
That which is called great common sense is none other than a quality with
which people are endowed who show great mental equilibrium whenever it is
a question of resolving material problems.
These people are generally country people or persons of humble
position, whose physical organism has been developed without paying
much attention to their intellectual education; they are, in fact,
perfect candidates for the attainment of common sense, without having
been educated to this end.
Their aptitude results from a constant habit of reflection which,
rendering their attention very keen, has permitted them to observe the
most minute details, therefore they can form correct conclusions, when it
is a question of things that are familiar to them.
A peasant who has been taught by nature will be more skilled in
prophesying about the weather than others.
He will also know how to assign a limit to the daily working hours, at
the same time stating the maximum time which one can give without
developing repulsion, which follows excesses of all kinds.
In his thought, very simple, but very direct, will be formulated this
Health is the first of all blessings, since without it we are incapable
of appreciating the other joys of life.
If I compromise this possession I shall be insensible to all others.
It is, therefore, indispensable that I should measure my efforts, for,
admitting that a certain exaggerated labor brings me a fortune, I shall
not know how to enjoy it if illness accompanies it.
This is the logic which is called practical sense.
Yoritomo continues, saying that there is a very close connection between
the faculty of judging and that of deducing.
"Practical sense, allied to common sense, comes to the assistance of the
latter, when it is tempted to reject the chain of analogy, whose
representation too often draws one far from the initial subject.
"It facilitates coordination, clearness, and precision of thought.
"It knows how to consider contingencies, and never fails to have a clear
understanding of relative questions."
And to illustrate his theory, he cites us an example which many of our
young contemporaries would do well to remember.
"There was," said he, "in the village of Fu-Isher, a literary man, who
wrote beautiful poems.
"He lived in great solitude, and no one would have heard of his existence
if it had not been that my master, Lang-Ho, while walking in the woods
one day, was attracted by the harmonious sounds of poetry, which this
young man was reciting, without thinking that he had any other listeners
than the birds of the forest.
"Lang-Ho made himself known to him and began to question him.
"He learned that he did not lack ambition, but, being poor, and having no
means of approaching those who would have been able to patronize him, he
was singing of nature for his own pleasure, waiting patiently until he
should be able to influence the powerful ones of the earth to share his
"Lang-Ho, touched by his youth and his ardor, pointed out to him the
dwelling of a prince, a patron of the arts, and, at the same time, told
him how he ought to address the nobleman, assuring him that the fact of
his being a messenger from a friend of the prince would open the doors of
the palace to him.
"The next day the young poet presented himself at the home of the
great lord, who, knowing that he had been sent by Lang-Ho, received
him in spite of the fact that he was suffering intensely from a
"He learned from the young man that he was a poet and treated him with
great consideration, making him understand, however, that all sustained
mental effort was insupportable to him on that day.
"But the poet, not paying attention to the prince's exprest desire,
unrolled his manuscripts and began reading an interminable ode without
noticing the signs of impatience shown by his august hearer.
"He did not have the pleasure of finishing it.
"The prince, seeing that the reader did not understand his importunity,
struck a gong and ordered the servant who appeared to conduct the young
man out of his presence.
"Later, he declared to Lang-Ho that his protege had no talent at all, and
reprimanded him severely for having sent the poet to the palace.
"But my master did not like to be thus criticized.
"So, a little while after that, one day, when that same prince was in an
agreeable frame of mind, Lang-Ho invited him to the reading of one of
"The nobleman declared that he had never heard anything more beautiful.
"'That is true,' said Lang-Ho, 'but you ought to have said this the first
time you heard it.'
"And he revealed to the prince that these verses were those of the young
man whom he had judged so harshly."
From this story two lessons may be drawn:
The first is, that if common sense indicates that judgment should not
change from scorn to enthusiasm, when it is a question of the same
object, practical sense insists that one should be certain of
impartiality of judgment, by avoiding the influence of questions which
relate to environment and surrounding circumstances.
The second concerns opportunity.
We have already had occasion to say how much some things, which seem
desirable at certain times, are questionable when the situation changes.
Bad humor creates ill-will; therefore it is abominably stupid to
provoke the manifestation of the second when one has proved the
existence of the first.
In order that there may be a connection between the faculty of judgment
and that of deduction, it is essential that nothing should be allowed to
interpose itself between these two phases of the argument.
Harmony between all judgments is founded on common sense, but it is
practical common sense, which indicates this harmony with precision.
It is also practical common sense which serves as a guide to the orator
who wishes to impress his audience.
He will endeavor first to choose a subject which will interest those who
listen to him.
In this endeavor he ought, above all, to consult opportunity.
And, as we have remarked on many occasions, the Shogun expresses theories
on this subject, to which the people of the twentieth century could not
give too much earnest consideration.
"There are," said he, "social questions, as, for example, dress
"With time, opinions change, as do forms and manners, and this is quite
"The progress of science by ameliorating the general conditions of
existence, introduces a need created by civilization which rejects
barbarous customs; the mentality of a warrior is not that of an
agriculturist; the man who thinks about making his possessions productive
has not the same inclinations as he whose life is devoted to conquest,
and the sweetness of living in serenity, by modifying the aspirations,
metamorphoses all things.
"In order to lead attention in the direction which is governed by reason,
it is indispensable for the orator that he should expound a subject whose
interpretation will satisfy the demand of opportunity, which influences
"Practical sense will make him take care to speak only of things that he
has studied thoroughly.
"It will induce him to expound his theory in such a way that his hearers
will have to make no effort to assimilate it.
"That which is not understood is easily criticized, and practical sense
would prevent an orator from attempting to establish an argument whose
premises would offend common sense.
"He would be certain of failure in such a case.
"His efforts will be limited, then, to evoking common sense, by employing
practical sense, so far as what refers to the application of principles
which he desires to apply successfully."
Yoritomo recommends this affiliation for that which concerns the struggle
"Superstition," he says, "offends practical sense as well as common
sense, for it rests on an erroneous analysis.
"Its foundation is always an observation marred by falsity, establishing
an association between two facts which have nothing in common.
"There are people who reenter their homes if, when they reach the
threshold, they perceive a certain bird; others believe that they are
threatened with death if they meet a white cat."
Without going back to the days of Yoritomo, we shall find just as many
people who are the victims of superstitions concerning certain facts,
which are only the observance of customs fallen into disuse, and whose
practise has been perpetuated through the ages, altho, as we have said in
the preceding chapter, the purpose of the custom has disappeared, but the
custom itself has not been forgotten.
It is in this way that the origin of the superstition concerning salt
dates back to the time of the Romans, who (while at variance with the
principles of contemporary agriculture) sowed salt in the fields of their
enemies and thought that by so doing they would make them sterile.
To that far-distant epoch can be traced the origin of the superstition
concerning the spilling of salt.
Whatever may have been its cause, superstition is the enemy of common
sense, for, when it does not originate in an abolished custom, it is the
product of a personal impression, associating two ideas absolutely
"Practical sense," Yoritomo continues, "is a most valuable talent to
cultivate, for it prevents our judging from appearances.
"Frivolous minds are always inclined to draw conclusions from passing
impressions; they adopt neither foresight, nor precaution, nor
"There are people who will condemn a country as utterly unattractive,
because they happened to have visited it under unfavorable circumstances.
"Others, without considering what a country has previously produced, and
that at present the grain has not been planted, will declare unfertile
the soil which has been untilled for some months.
"On the other hand, if they visit a house on a sunny day, it would be
impossible for them to associate it with the idea of rain.
"It would be most difficult to make these people alter their judgment,
prematurely formed, and, in spite of the most authoritative assertions
and the most self-evident proofs, their initial idea will dominate all
those which one would like to instil into their minds.
"One moment would, however, suffice for reason to convince them that the
variations of atmosphere and the conditions of cultivation can modify
the aspect of a country, of a field, and of a house, to the extent of
giving them an appearance totally different from the one which they
seemed to have.
"But he who judges by appearances never rejoices in the possession of
that faculty which may be called reason in imagination.
"This is a gift, developed by practical sense and which common sense
happily directs in right channels.
"Those who are endowed with this faculty can, with the help of reasoning,
and by means of thought, build up a future reality based on a judgment
whose affirmation admits of no doubt.
"It is not a question of hypothesis, no matter how well-founded it is.
"Experience, in this case, is united with deduction to form a
preconceived but certain idea.
"By cultivating practical sense, we shall escape the danger of
idealization which, with people of unbalanced mentality, often sheds an
artificial light upon the picture."
There is still another point to which Yoritomo calls our attention, in
order to encourage us to cultivate the twin reasoning powers whose
advantages we are trying to commend in this chapter:
"Practical sense," says he, "sometimes puts common sense apparently in
the wrong, while acting, however, without the inspiration of the latter.
"This happens when it is an advantage, for the perfect equilibrium of the
projects in question, that it should be maintained at the same pitch, in
order that it may be understood by all.
"In the legendary days, snow the color of fire once fell on the
inhabitants of a little village, who were all about to attend a
"One man alone, an old philosopher, had remained at home because, at the
time they were to leave, he suddenly fell ill.
"When his sufferings were relieved, he started out to join the others and
found them committing all sorts of follies.
"Two among them were reviling one another, each one claiming that he was
the only king.
"Some were weeping because they thought that they were changed
"Others were screaming, without rime or reason, now embracing each other,
now attacking one another furiously.
"Soon the wise man recognized that they had been affected by the fall of
snow, which had made them crazy, and he tried to speak to them in the
language of reason.
"But all these crazy people turned on him, crying out that he had just
lost his reason and that he must be shut away.
"They undertook the task of taking him back to his home, but, as that was
not to be accomplished without rough usage, he assumed the part indicated
by practical sense; this man of common sense feigned insanity, and from
the moment the insane people thought that he resembled them they let him
alone and ceased to torment him.
"The philosopher profited by this fact to disarm their excitement, and,
little by little, all the time indulging in a thousand eccentricities,
which had no other object than to protect himself against them, he
demonstrated their aberration to them."
Could not this story serve as an example to the majority of
Is it not often necessary to appear to be denuded of common sense, to
make the voice of reason dominate?
In the fable of Yoritomo, his philosopher proved his profound knowledge
of the human heart, while he put in practise the power of practical sense
in apparent opposition, however, to common sense.
We said this at the opening of the chapter: practical sense and common
sense are two very near relatives, but they are two and not one.
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