HOW TO ACQUIRE COMMON SENSE
From: Common Sense How To Exercise It
Common Sense is a science, whatever may be said; according to Yoritomo,
it does not blossom naturally in the minds of men; it demands
cultivation, and the art of reasoning is acquired like all the faculties
which go to make up moral equilibrium.
"This quality," said the philosopher, "is obscure and intangible, like
the air we breathe.
"Like the air we breathe, it is necessary to our existence, it surrounds
us, envelops us, and is indispensable to the harmony of our mental life.
"To acquire this precious gift, many conditions are obligatory, the
principle ones being:
"Sincerity of perception.
"Art of the situation.
"And lastly the putting of the question.
"It is very clear that without exactness of perception we could not
pretend to judge justly; it would then be impossible for us to hear the
voice of common sense, if we did not strive to develop it.
"Perception is usually combined with what they call in philosophical
"Otherwise it is difficult, when recognizing a sensation, not to
attribute it at once to the sentiment which animated it at the time of
"The first condition, then, in the acquiring of common sense is to
maintain perfection in all its pristine exactness, by abstracting the
contingencies which could influence us.
"If we do not endeavor to separate from our true selves the suggestions
of sense-consciousness, we shall reach the point where perception is
transformed into conception, that is to say, we shall no longer obtain
reality alone, but a modified reality.
"With regard to perception, if we understand its truthfulness; it will be
a question for reawakening it, of placing ourselves mentally in the
environment where it was produced, and of awakening the memory, so as to
be able to distinguish, without mistake, the limits within which it is
"The art of situation consists in reproducing, mentally, past facts,
allowing for the influence of the surroundings at that time, as compared
with the present environment.
"One must not fail to think about the influences to which one has been
subjected since this time.
"It is possible that life during its development in the aspirant to
common sense may have changed the direction of his first conceptions
either by conversation or by reading or by the reproduction of divers
"It would then be a lack of common sense to base an exact recollection of
former incidents on the recent state of being of the soul, without
seeking to reproduce the state of mind in which one was at the epoch when
those incidents occurred.
"Activity of mind, stimulated to the utmost, is able to give a color to
preceding impressions, which they never have had, and, in this case
again, the recollection will be marred by inexactness.
"The art of situation requires the strictest application and on this
account it is a valuable factor in the acquirement of common sense.
"Attention vitalizes our activity in order to accelerate the development
of a definite purpose toward which it can direct its energy.
"It could be analyzed as follows:
"First, to see;
"Secondly, to hear.
"The functions of the other senses come afterward, and their
susceptibility can attract our attention to the sensations which they
give us, such as the sense of smell, of touch, of taste.
"These purely physical sensations possess, however, a moral
signification, from which we are permitted to make valuable deductions.
"The first two have three distinct phases:
"First degree, to see.
"Second degree, to look.
"Third degree, to observe.
"If we see a material, its color strikes us first and we say: I have seen
a red or yellow material, and this will be all.
"Applying ourselves more closely, we look at it and we define the
peculiarities of the color. We say: it is bright red or dark red.
"In observing it we determine to what use it is destined.
"The eye is attracted by:
"We have just spoken of the color.
"The movement is personified by a series of gestures that people make or
by a series of changes to which they subject things.
"The form is represented by the different outlines.
"The number by their quantity.
"The duration by their length; one will judge of the length of time it
takes to walk a road by seeing the length of it.
"The act of listening is divided into three degrees.
"First degree, to hear.
"Second degree, to understand.
"Third degree, to reflect.
"If some one walking in the country hears a dog bark he perceives first a
sound: this is the act of hearing.
"He will distinguish that this sound is produced by the barking of a dog;
this is the act of understanding.
"Reflection will lead him then to think that a house or a human being is
near, for a dog goes rarely alone.
"If the things which are presented to our sight are complex, those which
strike our ears are summed up in one word, sound, which has only one
definition, the quality of the sound.
"Then follow the innumerable categories of sound that we distinguish only
by means of comprehension and reflection, rendered so instinctive by
habit that we may call them automatic, so far as those which relate to
"The example which we have just given is a proof of this fact.
"Let us add that this habit develops each sensitive faculty to its
"The inhabitants of the country can distinguish each species of bird by
listening to his song; and the hermits, the wanderers, those who live
with society on a perpetual war footing, perceive sounds which would not
strike the ears of civilized people.
"Approximation is also one of the stones by whose aid we construct the
edifice of common sense.
"Concerning the calculations of probabilities, the application of
approximation will allow us to estimate the capacity or the probable
duration of things.
"We can not say positively whether a man will live a definite number of
years but we can affirm that he will never live until he is two hundred.
"There are, for approbation, certain known limits which serve as a basis
for the construction of reasoning, inspired by common sense.
"It can be affirmed, in a positive way, that, if the trunk of a tree were
floating easily, without sinking to the bottom of the water, it would not
float the same if thirty men were to ride astride of it.
"The initial weight of the tree permits it to maintain itself on the
surface; but if it be increased to an exaggerated total, we can, without
hesitation, calculate indirectly the moment when it will disappear,
dragging with it the imprudent men who trusted themselves to it.
"Everything in life is a question of approximation.
"The house which is built for a man will be far larger than the kennel,
destined to shelter a dog, because the proportions have been calculated,
by approximation, according to the relative difference between the
stature of the human and canine species.
"Clothing is also suited to the temperature.
"One naturally thinks that, below a certain degree of cold, it is
necessary to change light clothes for those made of thicker material.
"As with the majority of the constructive elements of common sense,
approximation is always based on experience.
"It draws its conclusions from the knowledge of known limitations, whose
affirmation serves as a basis for the argument which determines deduction
in a most exact manner.
"Experience itself depends on memory, which permits us to recall
facts and to draw our conclusions from them, on which facts reasoning
The Shogun does not fail to draw our attention to the difference between
experience and experimentation.
"This last," said he, "only serves to incite the manifestation of
"It consists of determining the production of a phenomenon whose
existence will aid us in establishing the underlying principles of an
observation which interprets the event.
"That is what is called experience.
"Comparison is a mental operation which permits us to bring things that
we desire to understand to a certain point.
"It is comparison which has divided time according to periods, which the
moon follows during its entire length.
"It is by comparing their different aspects and by calculating the
duration of their transformations, that men have been able to divide time
as they do in all the countries of the world.
"The science of numbers is also born of comparison, which has been
established between the quantities that they represent.
"This is the art of calculating the differences existing between each
thing, by determining the relativeness of their respective proportions.
"Comparison acts on the mind automatically, as a rule.
"It is indispensable to the cultivation of common sense, for it furnishes
the means of judging with full knowledge of all the circumstances.
"Analysis is an operation, which consists of separating each detail from
the whole and of examining these details separately, without losing sight
of their relationship to the central element.
"Analysis of the same object, while being scrupulously exact, can,
however, differ materially in its application, according to the way that
the object is related to this or that group of circumstances.
"There are, however, immutable things.
"For example: the letters of the alphabet, the elementary sounds, the
colors etc., etc.
"It suffices to quote only these three elements; one can easily
understand that the most elaborate manuscript is composed of only a
definite number of letters always repeating themselves, whose
juxtaposition forms phrases, then chapters, and finally the
"Music is composed only of seven sounds whose different combinations
produce an infinite variety of melodies.
"Elementary colors are only three in number.
"All the others gravitate around them.
"Therefore, these same letters, these same notes, these same colors,
according to their amalgamation, can change in aspect and cooperate in
the production of different effects.
"The same letters can express, according to the order in which they are
placed, terror or confidence, joy or grief.
"The same is true of notes and colors.
"Common sense ought then, considering these rules, to know how to analyze
all the details and, having done this, to coordinate and to classify
them, in order to distinguish them easily.
"Coordination and classification form an integral part of common sense."
And Yoritomo, who delights in reducing the most complex questions to
examples of the rarest simplicity, says to us:
"I am supposing that one person says to another, I have just met a negro.
The interlocutor, as well as he who mechanically registers this fact,
without thinking, gives himself up to analysis and to coordination which
always precedes synthesis.
"Without being aware of this mental action, their minds will be occupied
first with the operations of perception then of classification.
"This negro was a man of a color which places him in a certain group of
the human race.
"It is always thus that common sense proceeds, its principal merit being
to know how to unite present perceptions with those previously cognized,
then to understand how to coordinate them so as to be able to group them
concretely, that is to say, to synthesize them.
"Destination is defined as the purpose or object, born of deduction and
"Destination does not permit of losing sight of the end which is
"It allows the consideration of the purpose to predominate always, and
directs all actions toward this purpose, these actions being absolutely
the demonstrations of this unique thought.
"Habits, acquired in view of certain realizations, ought to be dropt from
the moment the purpose is accomplished, or that it is weakened."
It is by absolutely perpetuating those habits, whose pretext has
disappeared, that one sees the achievement of certain actions which have
been roughly handled by common sense.
"There are," again says the philosopher, "certain customs, whose origin
it is impossible to remember; at the time of their birth, they were
engendered by necessity, but even tho their purpose be obliterated,
tradition has preserved them in spite of everything, and those who
observe them do not take into consideration their absurdity.
"People of common sense refrain from lending themselves to these useless
practises, or, if they consent to allow them a place in their thoughts it
is that they attribute to them some reason for existence, either
practical or sentimental."
Direction is indicated by circumstances, by environment, or by necessity.
There is direction of resolutions as well as direction of a journey; it
is necessary, from the beginning, to consider well the choice of a good
route, after having done everything possible to discriminate carefully
between it and all other routes proposed.
It happens, however, that the way leads also through the cross-roads; it
is even indispensable to leave the short cuts in order to trace the
outline of the obstacles.
Direction is, then, an important factor in the acquiring of common sense.
The putting of the question takes its character from comparison, from
experience, and principally from approximation; but it is in itself a
synthesis of all the elements which compose common sense.
He who wishes to acquire common sense should be impregnated with all that
Then he will discipline himself, so as to be able to judge, by himself,
of the degree of reason which he has the right to assume.
He will begin by evoking some subject, comparing its visual forms with,
those forms which he understands the best, in other words, to the
perceptions which are the most familiar to him.
If it concerns a question to be solved, he will try to recall some
similar subject, and establish harmony, by making them both relative to a
Yoritomo advises choosing simple thoughts for the beginning.
"One will say, for example:
"Such a substance is a poison; the seeds of this fruit contain a weak
dose of it; these seeds could then become a dangerous food, if one
absorbed a considerable quantity.
"Common sense will thus indicate a certain abstaining from eating of it.
"Then one may extend his argument to things of a greater importance, but
taking great care to keep within the narrow limits of rudimentary logic.
"One must be impregnated with this principle:
"Two things equal to a third demand an affirmative judgment or decision.
"In the opposite case the negative deduction is enjoined.
"It is by deductions from the most ordinary facts that one succeeds in
making common sense intervene automatically in all our judgments.
"What would be thought of one who, finding himself in a forest at the
time of a violent storm, would reason as follows:
"First: The high summits attract lightning.
"Secondly: Here is a giant tree.
"Thirdly: I'm going to take refuge there.
"Then it is that common sense demands that the state his three
propositions as follows:
"First: High summits attract lightning.
"Secondly: Here is a giant tree.
"Thirdly: I'm going to avoid its proximity because it will surely be
"If he acted otherwise; if, in spite of his knowledge of the danger, he
took shelter under the branches of the gigantic tree, exposing himself to
be struck by lightning, one could, in this case, only reproach him with
imprudence and lay the blame to the lack of common sense which allowed
him to perform the act that logic condemned."
Now the old Nippon speaks to us of the means to employ, that we may avoid
pronouncing too hasty judgments, which are always, of necessity, weakened
by a too great indulgence for ourselves and at the same time too great a
severity for others.
"I was walking one day," said he, "on the shores of a lake, when I
discovered a man sitting at the foot of a bamboo tree, in an attitude of
the greatest despair.
"Approaching him, I asked him the cause of his grief.
"'Alas!' said he to me, 'the gods are against me; everything which I
undertake fails, and all evils crush me.
"'After the one which has just befallen me only one course of action is
left to me, to throw myself in the lake. But I am young, and I am weeping
for myself before resolving to take such a step.'
"And he related to me how, after many attempts without success, he had at
last gained a certain sum of money, the loss of which he had just
"In what way did you lose it?" I asked him.
"'I put it in this bag.'
"'Has some one stolen it?'
"'No, it has slipt through this rent.'
"And he showed me a bag, whose ragged condition confirmed, and at the
same time illustrated his statement.
"'Listen,' said I, sitting down beside him, 'you are simply devoid of
common sense, by invoking the hatred of the gods! You alone are the cause
of your present misery.
"'If you had simply reasoned before placing your money in this bag, this
would not have happened to you.'
"And as he opened his eyes wide:
"'You would have thought this,' I resumed:
"'The material, very much worn, is incapable of standing any weight
"'Now, the money which I possess is heavy, my bag is worn out.
"'I shall not, therefore, put my money in this bag or, at least, I shall
take care to line it beforehand with a solid piece of leather.
"'From this moment,' I proceeded, 'there only remains one thing for you
to do, always consult common sense before coming to any conclusion, and
you will always succeed.
"'As for your opinion concerning the hatred of the gods for you, if
you will once more call common sense to your assistance you will
reason as follows:
"'Gracious divinities protect only wise people.
"'Now, I have acted like a fool.
"'It is, therefore, natural that they should turn away from me.'
"How many useless imprecations would be avoided," adds the Shogun, "if it
were given to men to know how to employ the arguments which common sense
dictates, in order to distribute the weight of the mistakes committed
among those who deserve the burden, without, at the same time, forgetting
to assume our own share of the responsibility if we have erred.
"Nothing is more sterile than regrets or reproaches when they do not
carry with them the resolution never again to fall into the same error."
Afterward the philosopher demonstrates to us the necessity of abstracting
all personality from the exercises which combine for the attainment of
"There is," said he, "an obstacle against which all stupid people
stumble; it is the act of reasoning under the influence of passion.
"Those who have not decided to renounce this method of arguing will never
be able to give a just decision.
"There are self-evident facts, which certain people refuse to admit,
because this statement of the truth offends their sympathies or impedes
their hatreds, and they force themselves to deny the evidence, hoping
thus to deceive others regarding it.
"But truth is always the strongest and they soon become the solitary
dupes of their own wilful blindness.
"The man of common sense knows how to recognize falsehood wherever he
meets it; he knows how vain it is to conceal a positive fact and also how
dangerous it is to deceive oneself, a peril which increases in power, in
proportion to the effort made to ignore it.
"He does not wish to imitate those pusillanimous people who prefer to
live in the agony of doubt rather than to look misfortunes in the
face. He who is determined to acquire common sense will use the
"Doubt is a conflict between two conclusions.
"So long as it exists it is impossible to adopt either.
"Serenity is unknown to those whom doubt attacks.
"To obtain peace, it is necessary to become enlightened.
"However, it is wise always to foresee the least happy issue and to
prepare to support the consequences.
"The man who thinks thus will be stronger than adversity and will know
how to struggle with misfortune without allowing it to master him."
It is in these terms that Yoritomo initiates us into what he calls the
mechanism of common sense; in other words, the art of acquiring by the
simplest reasoning this quality dull as iron, but, like it, also solid
Next: COMMON SENSE AND ACTION
Previous: POWER OF DEDUCTION