Monday, March 21, 2011

Common Sense is a learned trait using both Sensing and iNtuition functions

I have heard it said that common sense is not common. I have also used the concept of the "common sense test" many times as an officer and leader in the US Army. So I started thinking lately about common sense and which Jungian function (or functions) tend to be engaged in order to help an individual to use or access their common sense. To get started I needed a definition of common sense. So doing what my daughter taught me to do, I turned to the internet for answers, I got a lot more than I was looking for but it was so enlightening here are some of the answers that seemed most useful to my thoughts.

Mirriam Webster's online dictionary says simply -
"sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts" - Dictionary - n. Sound judgment not based on specialized knowledge; native good judgment. - Thesaurus - noun, The ability to make sensible decisions: judgment, sense, wisdom. Informal gumption, horse sense.

From Wikipedia
Common sense (or, when used attributively as an adjective, commonsense, common-sense, or commonsensical), based on a strict construction of the term, consists of what people in common would agree on: that which they "sense" as their common natural understanding. Some people (such as the authors of Merriam-Webster Online) use the phrase to refer to beliefs or propositions that — in their opinion — most people would consider prudent and of sound judgment, without reliance on esoteric knowledge or study or research, but based upon what they see as knowledge held by people "in common". Thus "common sense" (in this view) equates to the knowledge and experience which most people allegedly have, or which the person using the term believes that they do or should have.

The Encyclopedia Britannica on line states -
18th- and early 19th-century Scottish school of Thomas Reid, Adam Ferguson, Dugald Stewart, and others, who held that in the actual perception of the average, unsophisticated man, sensations are not mere ideas or subjective impressions but carry with them the belief in corresponding qualities as belonging to external objects. Such beliefs, Reid insisted, “belong to the common sense and reason of mankind”; and in matters of common sense “the learned and the unlearned, the philosopher and the day-labourer, are upon a level.”

"Common sense is the measure of the possible; it is composed of experience and prevision; it is calculation applied to life." - Henri Frederic Amiel
"Common sense is the knack of seeing things as they are, and doing things as they ought to be done." - Josh Billings
"Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age 18."-- Albert Einstein

I like the two definitions provided here from Webster's online dictionary and also from dictionary. Both are saying basically the same thing. That common sense is simple, without special knowledge and that it is a perception of what is going on. They also address the other half of the Jungian functions in that this common sense perception leads to a judgment or decision maybe even an action on the part of the person that acts on that common sense.
My desire in this post is not to look at the action or decision but instead focusing where common sense comes from or how we gain it and learn to use it. In the next post I will discuss the judgment or decision making side of common sense.
I was talking to several others who are considered experts in personality type theory about common sense. The consensus as well as the definitions from above seem to point to common sense as a skill usually associated with Sensing and most likely Extroverted Sensing. Several definitions talk about common sense being sensorial or of the senses. This would then seem a correct assumption. For my own part I do not think it is that easy to define. I also do not think that common sense is something exclusively associated with the sensing functions.
I tend to hold to the idea that common sense is a learned behavior. It is not something that we are born with. OK, having said that, I do think the ability to access your common sense may be the aspect that we come by naturally. For instance,I know individuals with similar backgrounds and personality, but while one seems to be able to access their common sense, the other does not seem to have any common sense what so ever. If common sense is learned then we are talking about perceiving functions of which sensing is at least half the story. The other half of the perceiving functions is iNtuition which I believe also contributes to common sense.
Intuition, by its very nature, allows the individual using those functions (Extroverted and Introverted iNtuition or Ne/Ni) to see connections, patterns, ideas far quicker than through the use of the sensing functions. This would seems to allow common sense to be revealed even when that individual may never have attempted or learned something before that moment. This lends credence to the idea that this is knowledge that is shared or may never have been learned.
An example in my life: in 1996 I left active duty and got a job in northern Michigan managing a horse ranch that did trail rides and boarded other horses. While I had grown up working on and around farms, worked with my father in his handyman business, bailed vast quantities of hay, and had a degree in biology with a great interest in large animals, I had never in my life work directly with horses, fixed a fence, or driven a tractor that had a bucket loader and a manure spreader that I was expected to use almost daily. It was my handyman skills from working with my dad, my tractor skills from working for Green Giant as a teen, and my general knowledge of animals that gave me the common sense I needed to succeed that summer. I was able to see connections from what I had learned years before to what I was doing in the present. While I drew upon memories and experiences from year before that could be attributed to introverted Sensing (Si), these were not memories directly since most of what I was actually doing was very new to me. I was pulling up memories of skills learned long ago (Si) and then making connections, seeing patterns and similarities through the use of Intuition (probably Extroverted iNtuition, Ne).

In other words, my COMMON SENSE was directing me to approach and accomplish my new tasks in a way that was both effective in getting the current job done and allowing me to learn completely new skills without guidance. I was learning without someone teaching me simply because I was able to connect something similar that I had already learned, to what it was I was doing at that moment. This is what I would call gaining common sense. It is a combination of the Sensing functions enhanced by Intuitive functions and is another example of why we should be careful of labels like "sensors or intuitors, Feelers or Thinkers" as some might do because of a letter in their personality type.

I have been working with John Beebe's 8 mental functions and archetypes for several years now and despite their complexity to explain at times, they remain, for me, the absolute best model for discussing Jungian personality type. Before I go any further I want everyone to understand that I am not blogging like this merely to sound philosophical. If you cannot get something from this series of posts on common sense that you can apply to your own life then it is probably not worth your time. What I will share I have already looked at from my personal perspective and it seems to be the most effective model to talk about situations that I personally have been through. Whether you like what you read here or not, it is perfectly alright for you to disagree with me if you wish. New posts coming soon.