THE UTILITY OF COMMON SENSE IN DAILY LIFE
From: Common Sense How To Exercise It
As our philosopher explains, the influence of common sense is above all
appreciation of daily events. "We have," he continues, "very rarely in
life the opportunity of making grave decisions, but we are called upon
daily to resolve unimportant problems, and we can only do it in a
judicious way, if we are allowed to devote ourselves to certain kinds of
"This is what may be called to judge with discrimination, otherwise, with
"Without this faculty, it is in vain that our memory amasses the
materials, which must serve us in the comparative examination of facts.
"And this examination can only be spoiled by decrepitude, if common sense
did not succeed in dictating its conclusions to us.
"Thanks to this faculty, we possess this accuracy of mind which permits
us to discern truth from falsehood.
"It is this power which aids us in distinguishing what we should consider
as a duty, as a right, or as a thing conforming to equity, established by
the laws of intelligence.
"Without common sense we should be like an inexperienced gardener, who,
for want of knowledge, would allow the tares to grow and would neglect
the plants whose function is to nourish man.
"In order to conform to the habit of judging with common sense, one ought
first to lay down the following principle:
"No fact can exist, unless there is a sufficient motive to determine
"It is when operating on the elements furnished us by common sense that
we are able to discern the quality of the object of our attention.
"One day, a sage, whom people gladly consulted, was asked by what means
he had learned to know so well the exact proportion of things, so that he
never failed to attribute to them their real value.
"'Why' they added, 'can you foresee so exactly the evil and direct us to
that which is right and just?'
"And the superstitious people added:
"'Are you not in communication with the spirits, which float in space,
which come from the other world?
"Would you not be counseled by voices which we have not the power to
hear, and do you not see things which are visible to you alone?'
"'You are right,' replied the saintly man, smiling:
"'I have indeed the power to hear and to see that which you do not
perceive; but sorcery has no relation to the power which is
attributed to me.
"If you wish, you will be able to possess it in your turn, for my means
are not a secret.
"'I keep my eyes and ears open.'
"And as every one burst out laughing, believing it a joke, the sage
"'But this is not all; after having seen and heard, I call to my aid all
the qualities which constitute common sense and, thanks to this faculty,
I draw my conclusions from my experience, from which enthusiasm, fancy,
as well as personal interest are totally excluded.
"'This done, and my judgment being formulated in my thought, I adapt it
to the circumstances, and especially to the material situation and to the
mentality of those who consult me.'
"From these counsels," thinks the Shogun, "we must draw a precious
"It is true that an exigency, physical or moral, can determine, in
different individuals, a very different resolution.
"According to the manner of life adopted, or the direction given to one's
duties, different resolutions can be made without lacking common sense.
It is indisputable that what represents social obligations does not
demand the same conduct from the peasant as from the prince.
"We should outrage common sense in presenting a workman with a gorgeous
robe suitable for great ceremonies, in which to do his work, but reason
would be equally outraged if one put on a shabby costume to go to the
palace of the Mikado."
The nature of resolutions inspired by common sense varies according to
environment, the time, and the state of mind in which one is.
These conditions make of this quality a virtue really worth acquiring,
for it is more difficult to conquer than many others and its effects are
of infinite variety.
But as always, Yoritomo, after having signaled the danger, and indicated
the remedy, gives us the manner of its application.
That which follows is marked by that simplicity of conception and
facility of execution which render the doctrine of the Nippon philosopher
Instead of losing himself by digressing from his subject and by placing
himself on the summits of psychology, he remains with us, puts himself on
the level of the most humble among us, and says to us all:
"The best way to use common sense in daily life consists in declaring
one's honest intentions.
"What should I do if I were in the place of the person with whom I am
"I found myself one day on the slope of a hill named Yung-Tshi, and I
remarked that the majority of the trees were stript of their foliage.
"The season seeming to me not sufficiently advanced for this condition of
vegetation, I exprest my astonishment to a passer-by, who replied to me:
"'Alas! This occurs every year at the same time, and it is not well to
cultivate trees on the height of Yung-Tshi, for the sun, being too hot,
dries them up before the time when the foliage ought to fall.'
"A few days afterward my steps lead me on the opposite slope of the
"There the trees were covered with foliage, still green but uncommon, and
their appearance indicated an unhealthy condition of growth.
"'Alas!' said a man who was working in the hedges to me, 'it is not well
to cultivate trees on the height of Tung-Tshi, for the sun never shines
there, and they can only acquire the vigor they would possess if they
were planted in another country.'
"And, altho recognizing the truth of these two opinions, so
contradictory, I could not help thinking that they were the reproduction
of those which men, deprived of common sense, express every day.
"The same hill produced a vegetation, affected in different ways, by
reason of different causes; and the people, instead of taking into
consideration how carelessly they had chosen the location of their
plantation, preferred to attribute the defect to the site itself, rather
than to their lack of precaution.
"Both of them were suffering from a hurtful exaggeration, but each one
explained it in a way arbitrarily exclusive.
"He of the north made out that the sun never shone on the summit of
Yung-Tshi, and the inhabitant of the south affirmed that the
health-giving shade was unknown there."
This is why it is indispensable to the successful resolution of the
thousand and one problems of daily life, both those whose sole importance
is derived from their multiplicity and those whose seriousness justly
demands our attention, to employ the very simple method which prescribes
that we place ourselves mentally in the position and circumstances of the
person with whom we are discussing.
If each one of the inhabitants of Yung-Tshi had followed this precept,
instead of declaring that the hill never received the sun or that shade
never fell upon it, they would each one have thought for himself.
"At what conclusions should I arrive, if I had planted my trees on the
From the reasoning which would have ensued, the following truth would
most certainly have been revealed.
"If I were in the other man's place, I should certainly think as he
This premise once laid down, the conclusion would be reached; all the
more exact, because, without abandoning their arguments, each one would
present those which it is easy to turn against an adversary.
Before solving a problem, he who desires to avoid making a mistake must
never fail to ask himself this question:
What should I do if my interests were those of the opposite party?
Or, yet again:
What should I reply if my adversaries used the same language to me as I
purpose using when addressing them?
This method is valuable in that it raises unexpected objections, which
the mind would not consider if one had simply studied the question from
one's own point of view.
It is a self-evident fact that, according to the state of mind in which
we are, things assume different proportions in the rendering of
judgment on them.
We must not argue as children do, who, not having the sense of
calculating distances, ask how the man standing near to them will be able
to enter his house, which they see far away, and which seems to them of
One departs from common sense when one attributes to insignificant things
a fundamental value.
We neglect to consider it in a most serious way when we adopt principles
contrary to the general consensus of opinion accredited in the
environment in which we are living.
"A high dignitary of the court," says Yoritomo, "would be lacking in
common sense if he wished to conduct himself as a peasant and, on the
other hand, a peasant would give a proof of great folly were he to
attempt the remodeling of his life on the principles adopted by
"He who, passing his life in camps, wished to think and to act like the
philosopher, whose books are his principal society, would cause people to
doubt his wisdom; and the thinker who should adopt publicly the methods
of a swashbuckler would only inspire contempt."
In ordinary life, one ought to consider this faculty of common sense as
the ruling principle of conduct.
One can be lacking in thought, in audacity, in brilliant qualities, if
only one possesses common sense.
It takes the place of intelligence in many people, whose minds,
unaccustomed to subtle argument, only lend themselves to very simple
A versatile mentality rarely belongs to such minds, because it is not
their forte to unfold hidden truths.
It walks in the light and keeps in the very middle of the road, far from
the ambushes which may be concealed by the hedges of the cross-roads.
Many people gifted with common sense but deprived of ordinary
intelligence have amassed a fortune, but never, no matter how clever he
may be, has a man known success, if he has not strictly observed the laws
of common sense.
It is not only in debates that the presence of this virtue should make
itself felt, but every act of our life should be impregnated with it.
There are no circumstances, no matter how insignificant they may appear,
where the intervention of common sense would be undesirable.
It is only common sense which will indicate the course of conduct to be
pursued, so as not to hurt the feelings or offend the prejudices of
There are great savants, whose science, freed from all puerile beliefs,
rises above current superstition.
They would consider it a great lack of common sense if they expounded
their theories before the humble-minded, whose blind faith would be
Of two things one is certain: either they would refuse to believe such
theories and this display of learning would be fruitless, or their
habitual credulity would be troubled and they would lose their
tranquility without acquiring a conviction sufficiently strong to give
them perfect peace of mind.
Even in things which concern health, common sense is applicable to
It is common sense which will preserve us from excesses, by establishing
the equilibrium of the annoyances which result from them, with reference
to the doubtful pleasure which they procure.
Thanks to common sense, we shall avoid the weariness of late nights and
the danger of giving oneself up to the delights of dissipation.
"It is common sense," says the philosopher, "which forces us at a banquet
to raise our eyes to the hour-glass to find out how late it is.
"It is under the inspiration of this great quality of mind that we shall
avoid putting to our lips the cup already emptied many times.
"Common sense will reflect upon the mirror of our imagination the specter
of the day after the orgy; it will evoke the monster of the headache
which works upon the suffering cranium with its claws of steel; and, at
some future day, it will show us precocious decrepitude as well as all
bodily ills which precede the final decay of those who yield to their
passions. It will also impose upon us the performance of duty under the
form which it has adopted for each individual.
"Common sense represents for some the care of public affairs; for others
those of the family; for us all the great desire to leave intact to our
descendants the name which we have received from our fathers.
"For some of those still very young, it is like a lover long desired!
"For sages and warriors, it blows the trumpet of glory.
"Finally, common sense is the chosen purpose of every one, courted,
demanded, desired or accepted, but it exists, and under the penalty of
most serious inconveniences it does not permit us to forget its
Coming down from the heights where he allows himself to be transported at
times for a brief moment, Yoritomo tells us the part played by common
sense with reference to health.
"Common sense" he assures us, "is the wisest physician whom it is
possible to consult.
"If we followed its advice, we should avoid the thousand and one little
annoyances of illnesses caused by imprudence.
"The choice of clothing would be regulated according to the existing
"One would avoid the passing at once from extreme heat to extreme cold.
"One would never proffer this stupid reflection: Bah! I shall take care
of myself, which impudent people declare when exposing themselves
carelessly to take cold.
"We should understand that disease is a cause of unparalleled disorder
"In addition to the thought of possible sufferings, that of grief for
those whom we love, joined to the apprehension of a cessation of social
functions, on whose achievement depends our fortune, would suffice to
eliminate all idea of imprudence, if we had the habit of allowing common
sense to participate in all our actions of daily life.
"To those who walk under its guidance; it manifests itself without
ceasing; it dominates all actions without their being compelled to
separate themselves from it.
"It is unconsciously that they appeal to common sense and they have no
need of making an effort to follow its laws.
"Common sense is the intelligence of instinct."
Next: POWER OF DEDUCTION
Previous: THE DANGERS OF SENTIMENTALITY