There is a lot to be said for René Descartes’s little book Discourse on Method for Rightly Conducting Reason and Searching for Truth in the Sciences. Although published in the 17th-century, it is in many ways a very contemporary book, especially in its understanding of science. Unlike the “speculative philosophy” of the Scholastics, Descartes said, his own philosophy was very much a practical instrument whose deployment would not only greater understanding of but also control over nature. By following his method, Descartes promised, man would make himself “the master and possessor of nature.”
The progress of modern science and technology, which owes so much to Descartes’s experimental method, shows the enormous extent to which Descartes’s promise has been fulfilled. But, brilliant though the Discourse on Method is, it begins with one of the most misleading sentences in the history of philosophy. “Good sense,” Descartes writes, is the most widely distributed thing in the world.” (“Le bon sense est la chose du monde la mieux partagée: . . .”)
Is that, Dear Reader, your experience? Do you look around and say to yourself, “Isn’t it jolly that good sense prevails everywhere?”
Or, rather, do you look around and conclude that good sense is one thing the world has far too little of?
I thought about the fate of good sense today when a friend sent me a eulogy on the passing of Common Sense. I found it immensely apropos and herewith share it with you all:
Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as:
— Knowing when to come in out of the rain; — why the early bird gets the worm; — life isn’t always fair; — and maybe it was my fault.
Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don’t spend more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are in charge)
His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a 6-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouth wash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.
Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly children.
It declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer sun lotion or an Aspirin to a student; but could not inform parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion..
Common Sense lost the will to live as the churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims. Common Sense took a beating when you couldn’t defend yourself from a burglar in your own home and the burglar could sue you for assault.
Common Sense finally gave up the will to live, after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement …
Common Sense was preceded in death, by his parents, Truth and Trust. His wife, Discretion, his daughter, Responsibility, his son, Reason.
He is survived by his 4 stepbrothers; I Know My Rights; I Want It Now; Someone Else Is To Blame; I’m A Victim.
Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone. If you still remember him, pass this on. If not, join the majority and do nothing.