Jonathan asked why I sometimes use the term, common sense and at other times I use the phrase, good sense. He always believed they were synonymous, yet had some doubts.
I complimented my friend on having the good sense to wonder about this. There is a difference between the two concepts. The difference is in the thinking. That said, at times the two can overlap.
Most of us understand the meaning of common sense. It means something that is popularly accepted as the “truth”. For instance, in ancient times, people believed that the Sun orbited the Earth. It was common sense because people can observe the Sun “travels” across the sky during the day and this process occurs daily. Meantime, astronomers and philosophers were not satisfied with this common sense explanation. They analyzed this phenomenon and arrived at the concept of the Earth orbiting the Sun. This was a very controversial view for many years because it did not jibe with religious and popular understanding about the relationship between the Earth and everything else. This example shows how good sense depends upon experience, context, and analysis of common sense.
During the Dark Ages, many astronomers and philosophers may have had the good sense to keep their knowledge a secret because their good sense deviated from the highly regarded common sense held in high esteem by religious and political authority figures. The possessors of scientific fact did not wish to irritate the authorities who would likely have the thinkers burned at the stake–common sense. Meantime, the thinkers understood the error of common sense about the Universe and why they had to use good sense or sound judgment about when and with whom they could share their knowledge if they wanted to remain alive. Again, this required both good sense and common sense.
We think of common sense as being practical judgment that does not require special knowledge, training, or deviation from the norm. Common sense is popularly assumed to never be wrong. People use common sense instead of analytical, specialized knowledge because it seems correct. Also, when someone tries to convince us of the validity of a point of view, she means that it is popularly and widely accepted, so it must be true.
Meantime, people who want to exercise good sense, notice there is a grain of truth in the common sense argument but also realize that a complex issue requires careful discernment. They understand that common sense is not a good substitute for investigation and logic. They’re willing to challenge socially accepted, pre-existing beliefs and acceptable conclusions.
While it is tempting to always lean on common sense as a method of judgment, it is more wise to be skeptical about common sense and investigate whether or not common sense should be believed. While common sense can be useful for everyday living, it should not be relied upon for crucial decision-making.
To answer Jonathan’s question, common sense is what is popularly assumed to be correct, pragmatic, and useful. Good sense takes this another step by investigating whether or not it is true and authentically helpful. Sometimes good sense invalidates common sense and sometimes it validates it.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes 17th century baroque, Spanish Jesuit philosopher and writer, Baltasar Gracián. “The tepid ‘yes’ from from a remarkable person is worth more than all the applause of the vulgar–you cannot make a meal off the smoke of chaff…. Some strive to fill their stomach albeit only with the breath of the mob.”