HOW TO ACQUIRE COMMON SENSE





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.



"Attention.



"Approximation.



"Experience.



"Comparison.



"Analysis.



"Synthesis.



"Destination.



"Direction.



"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

language adaptation.



"Otherwise it is difficult, when recognizing a sensation, not to

attribute it at once to the sentiment which animated it at the time of

its manifestation.



"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

narrowly confined.



"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

narrations.



"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:



"The color.



"The movement.



"The form.



"The number.



"The duration.



"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

familiar sounds.



"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

highest degree.



"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

is based."



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

the first.



"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

complete work.



"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

of classification.



"Destination does not permit of losing sight of the end which is

proposed.



"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

has preceded.



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

common antecedent.



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

dangerous.



"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

experienced.



"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

without tearing.



"'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

common sense.



"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

following argument:



"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

and durable.





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