Home > Ideas and Philosophy > Common Sense and Doing the Right Thing

Common Sense and Doing the Right Thing

There is supposedly no such thing as “common sense” because everybody perceives the world differently, shaped by the particular context in which we were raised and exposed. What seems like “common sense” to one person isn’t necessarily and literally “common sense” to another person.

Why We’re Terrible Predictors (excerpt)

We can agree that something is common sense as long as we share the same set of assumptions. I think people really don’t understand how much of a problem this is, because they assume that what they think is common sense is right.

So common sense is actually very good for resolving everyday situations, where everyone shares the same set of assumptions. The problem is that it feels so effective to us in these circumstances that we’re tempted to use it to make decisions and plans and predictions about situations that are not everyday situations. We want to use it to make decisions that are about people who are very different from us, who are interacting with each other in complex ways over extended intervals of time.

So common sense is very adaptive for certain situations but maladaptive for others, and we don’t understand the distinction?  Right. The problem is that when thinking about a very large-scale, abstract problem, what we tend to do is reduce it down to a single scenario…

In this day and age it seems like a big deal if someone is honest, exhibits integrity, or does something good in general.  We find ourselves putting these people on a pedestal, or something.

There’s a line of thinking that states that doing good and being good should be default expected behavior – “common sense.”  That being said it’s unnecessary to praise people who do such expected behavior.

However a reality of life is that doing the right thing is never easy.  In fact sometimes it’s not easy precisely because it’s the right thing, if the “right thing” means losing something on your end or causing an inconvenience that could have otherwise been avoided by remaining silent or doing nothing.  If it were easy to do the right thing then we wouldn’t be praising people and labeling them as “heroes” for doing such expected good things.

It’s not easy doing good and being good.  It’s thus important to be reminded of this virtue, and it helps a lot to see this in the people we know in our life that best exemplify that.

Categories: Ideas and Philosophy
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