• John Ikerd

Some Thoughts on Common Sense

Updated: Mar 6, 2019

I regret having to start off my first real blog piece with an apology, but I was scammed. I opened a link to an organization called IQ Elite, seemingly referred to me by a friend, and the site gained access to my email address book. It sent out messages that John Ikerd wanted you to view a message or that I was using IQ Elite – which I most certainly am not. Do not open any links associated with IQ Elite to avoid passing this “scam” on to others.

Now to my blog piece. I was fortunate to be able to participate in a recent international conference in Claremont, California: Seizing the Alternative; Toward an Ecological Civilization .  Much of the event was a tribute to John Cobb. Many of us know John as the coauthor with Herman Daly of the book, For the Common Good – well-known reference among ecological economists and those concerned with economic sustainability. Daly and Cobb called for a return to economics as oikonomia, which roughly translated means management of the household for the long-run well-being of all. John Cobb is also perhaps the preeminent scholar of the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, the founder of Process Philosophy.

Process philosophy attempts to reconcile our collective human experience into a logically coherent explanation of reality.  Specifically, it attempts to reconcile our common insights and intuitions about how the world works with the so-called objective world of modern science. Whitehead metaphysics speculates that reality, at its most fundamental level, is made up of momentary events or experiences rather than of solid or enduring material substances. Reality is a “process.” Process philosophers also considers these experiential events to be internally interconnected and interdependent with each other. Reality is holistic – we co-create it. Thus, we share a common experience or a “common sense” of reality as it unfolds.

I agree with the basic ideas of Process Philosophy, and the points where I differ are minor. For example, I believe that reality exists as potentials. I don’t think we actually create reality but instead realize or experience the potentials of reality as they unfold. Our experience of reality is a collaborative process. Most important, I am convinced that by sharing a common experience of reality we gain a “common sense” of reality. Furthermore, I believe our common sense of reality is the ultimate test of authenticity or objectivity that is accessible to us as mere humans.

The major point of this blog is that many aspects of current scientific thinking simply are not consistent with our common experience and thus does not make common sense. At the most fundamental level, modern science denies the existence of purpose in human life. The philosophy of materialism that dominates contemporary scientific thinking assumes that reality is predetermined. Our human experiences then are nothing more than neurological perceptions of the mindless, purposeless unfolding of endless sequences of chemical, electronic, biological processes. Human intentionality and free-will are illusions.

If this were true, if there were no purpose in life, whatever we choose to do or not do would make no difference. Our choices and actions would be neither right or wrong nor good or bad; they would be meaningless. Our actions or inactions simply would not matter one way or another. In fact, it wouldn’t really matter whether we lived or died or whether we cared if others lived or died. Our concern or lack of concerns for society or the future of humanity would be meaningless.

Obviously, a purposeless life is not consistent with our shared experiences or our common sense of reality. Yet, we allow a philosophy that denies the existence of purpose to define objective reality for us and to dominate many important aspects of our lives, while the existence of purpose is far more consistent with our common sense of reality. Purpose gives meaning to life and confirms that our individual and collective choices and actions matter.

I had not connected the existence of purpose and common sense with Process Philosophy when in encountered it during my college years. However, my first book manuscript was, The Case for Common Sense, parts of which were later published in my book A Return to Common Sense. Common sense was the subtitle of my first published book Sustainable Capitalism; A Matter of Common Sense. In those books, I referenced the abandoned Scottish philosophy of common sense. It was comforting to realize that Process Philosophy has endured to help validate my case for “common sense.”

More to the point, I have long been an advocate of a “national stop and think” day. I think it might change the future of humanity if everyone everywhere set aside a day a year to just “stop and think.” I think a lot of us would conclude that we are doing a lot of things that just don’t make sense anymore, if they ever did. Science may be able to tell us how things happen, but science cannot tell us why. Science may be able to tell us what we can and can’t do, but science can’t tell us what we should do.  For the most important decisions of life, we need to start relying more on our “common sense.”

John Ikerd

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