One of the more potentially pernicious ideas in philosophy is the idea of “common sense,” so often played as a trump card against any idea that departs from the established prejudices of one’s interlocutors. But for the most part, that’s all “common sense” can amount to: prejudice, the pre-judgements shared in common by a given social context. Now this doesn’t necessarily make it bad. Hans-Georg Gadamer tried to “rehabilitate” the concept of prejudice (Vorurteil) on the grounds that even newly acquired knowledge must be measured against knowledge we already have. We must start where we are. As I noted in discussing dialectical and demonstrative argument, this is true even of foundationalist thinkers like Descartes who try to begin everything from first principles – in the chronology of their arguments, they must start with prejudice or “common sense” in order to figure out what the first principles are.
But Gadamerian prejudices can still be prejudices in the pejorative sense as well. Continue reading