The Weaknesses and Strengths of Common Sense and Science as Sources of Knowledge
There are many sources of knowledge as the society progresses. In this case, the most controversial question would be whether or not common sense can be accounted as a reliable source of knowledge? Although both common sense and science can be taken into account as sources of knowledge, I will argue that to some extent common sense and scientific knowledge are still very different from one another. That is, scientific knowledge is much more highly valued and reliable than common sense. By definition, common sense is a knowledge that is developed from daily basis, and is primarily based on the viewer’s observation, while scientific knowledge is generated from a constant formal of testing in the real world. In this essay, I will discuss the weaknesses and strengths of common sense and scientific knowledge and defend my position for why scientific knowledge is generally regarded as more reliable and authoritative than common sense.
In this section, I will discuss the main strengths of common sense and science. Arthur E. Murphy, an American philosopher, believed that the ability to learn by experience is the most fundamental factor in our intellectual progress. On one hand, namely, common sense is both common and sensible. That is, common sense beliefs can be easily observed by individuals and it is rather comprehensible. Science, on the other hand, uses a rational methodology. Also, along with that science further understanding of why certain things happen as they do in the natural world. Another advantage of science is that it involves three-step process of scientific method: observing, explaining and testing. Science often begins by observing the natural world. Theoretically, if something that is not well understood rises, speculate about its explanation and then find some method to examine those speculations. Unlike common sense, science goes through a much more complex process in order to obtain its conclusion and results, while common sense is only based on one’s subjective perception.
In spite of its strengths, common sense can also have several weaknesses. The first weakness is that, naïve common sense supposes that they are what they appear to be. But, this is never the case, since they do not appear exactly the same to any two or more simultaneous observers. Secondly, the pursuit of precision will destroy the certainty, in which it may be deceivable.
Further support for this claim comes from the English philosopher Bertrand Russell. According to Bertrand Russell, there are three defects in which knowledge suffers from ordinary life: cocksure, self-contradictory, and vague. Bertrand Russell believed that these three defects are interconnected, in which by realizing of any one we may be led to recognize the other two. For instance, the physicist and an ordinary man may define or perceive a “chair” differently. The physicist may say that a chair is made of electrons and protons in rapid motion, with space in between, while an ordinary man may just see a chair as certain patches of color instead of any electrons or protons. Although the term “chair” is perfectly defined in the world of science as a collection of electrons and protons, this may not be applicable to an ordinary man who has never studied science before. This is an example of how two different observers may perceive objects differently based on their personal experiences. This is also why Bertrand Russell believed that common sense is never a reliable source of knowledge. Likewise, science can also have limitations in which it is impossible to attain. Science can only investigate phenomena that are operated within the “laws of nature”. That is, science cannot support or falsify supernatural explanations, such as aliens, ghosts or even the existence of God. Moreover, the observations and experimental results must be repeatable. Overall, neither common sense nor science can test or prove the validity of the supernatural.
Throughout the weaknesses and strengths of common sense and science, I will argue that even if common sense is regarded a source of knowledge, scientific knowledge is, nevertheless, more highly valued and reliable than common sense, for that common sense is rather subjective and dependent. Common sense is based primarily on one’s observation and daily basis and therefore can only be regarded as a “normative statement”1. Scientific knowledge, however, is objective as it is constantly tested in the practical world by a group of scientists. More importantly, scientific results are
also open to the public for review, while common sense does not. In our times, scientific knowledge is often used to apply in many fields, such as technology, architecture, biology and chemistry. Regardless, common sense is mostly applicable on daily basis rather than any specific area of study. This is mainly because common sense is more of a general and experience-based of knowledge. It cannot be denied that being a source of knowledge, common sense can be rather unreliable as it does not have much concrete evidence to back up its reasoning.
Having argued for the view that scientific knowledge is generally regarded as more reliable than common sense, I now wish to consider rival views. It is also acknowledgeable that common sense also plays a major role in our daily routines. For instance, sun is hot and we shall never touch a hot pan with bare hands. In this case, common sense does become really helpful. At this point, however, we need to consider the following objections. Does common sense always state the facts? Does it really contribute much in terms of our standard of living? I will begin by defining the term “knowledge”. Knowledge is defined as acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation (Dictionary.com, 2012). Let’s assume that common sense does help to explain certain phenomena in real life situation. The downside to this view is that the future is unpredictable and therefore nothing stays in constant. Thus, common sense can also be constantly altering. If something alters, how about the facts that it holds? Do the “facts” still remain the same? If not, can common sense still be regarded as a reliable source of knowledge?
Moreover, the notion of a common sense proposition is rather vague as people tend to perceive “common sense” differently. In other word, common sense is technically what we think we might know as an individual. Common sense is therefore not recognized the same among all individuals. That is, I might argue that all apples taste rather sweet from what I have experienced, but someone might object this and say all apples taste sour. This is an example of where different perceptions encountered. We, as individuals, use our personal experiences to define or interpret things differently. Another drawback of common sense is that, it holds the assumption that there are some propositions that almost everyone knows. This assumption is, however, not true as common sense is really what we have been taught or what we have learned from our previous experiences. For instance, I might assume the fact that the tongue of giraffe is blue is a common sense and everyone should know this by now. But is this really the case? Do we all share the same common sense? This is highly controversial and doubtable.
To conclude, for the reasons above, I believe that scientific knowledge is more reliable and authoritative than common sense, given the fact that common sense is rather subjective as it is generally carried out from one’s experiences. Specifically, common sense is not testable. Scientific knowledge, by contrast, is often supported by a large body of evidence, and is therefore more trustable. What is more, scientists tend to theorize about most things that happen in the natural world, constitute monumental research projects, set up equipment, excavate relics, take surveys, and run experiments on everything from people to protons to plants. In my opinion, “the process of observing nature, isolating a facet that is not well understood and then proposing and testing possible explanations” is indeed more consistent and trustworthy than common sense (Carey, S., 2012). If everything is really what they appear to be, then does this acknowledge the saying that “seeing is believing”? Can everything still remain a hundred percent certainty even after the constant changes in the real world today?