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Epistemic Principles

A Primer for the Theory of Knowledge

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Nicholas Rescher

Epistemic Principles: A Primer of the Theory of Knowledge presents a compact account of the basic principles of the theory of knowledge. In doing this, Nicholas Rescher aims to fill the current gap in contemporary philosophical theory of knowledge with a comprehensive analysis of epistemological fundamentals. The book is not a mere inventory of such rules and principles, but rather interweaves them into a continuous exposition of basic issues. Written at a user-friendly and accessible level, Epistemic Principles is an essential addition for both advanced undergraduate and graduate courses in epistemology.
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Chapter 20. Common Sense

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COMMON SENSE

In commencing his Discourse in Method, René Descartes wrote: “Le bon sens est la chose du monde le mieux partagée: car [les gens] n’ont point coutume d’en desirer plus qu’ils en ont.” Common sense is only operative with intelligent beings—creatures who use experience-developed thought in managing the affairs of their lives. Common sense facts are indispensable factors in their thought, although despite requiring virtually no explicit attention. For common sense truths are not very interesting as such because they are truisms. The information they convey does not come as news to anyone. “There are human beings.” “Trees can grow.” “Some statements are false.” “People sometimes make mistakes.” No one needs instruction in such matters, though of course the fact that they are not interesting does not mean that they are not important.

Common sense is neither a cognitive faculty nor yet a method of production for beliefs in matters of thought and action. Rather, it is a status-characterization of certain beliefs with regard to the qualifying conditions under which they obtain. To say of this or that belief regarding facts or modes of operation that “it is only a matter of common sense” is to classifying this belief among the commonplace fundamentals that generally prevail among normally competent adults. ← 113 | 114 →

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