America and the political philosophy of common sense

The Political Meaning of Common Sense
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On similar grounds, Witherspoon attacked preeminent Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant. In criticizing Hume, Kant mistakenly conceived truth as contingent on a priori impositions of space, time, and cause on sense experience—and conceived the moral good as predicated on a duty resting on a universalized goodwill toward all humanity, which stands beyond circumstances and is independent of interests of self, others, and community.

While he agreed that democratic politics is about ensuring and exercising rights, Witherspoon reproved Locke for his compact based on individual rights and Hobbes for one rooted in survival, and argued for a broader covenant based on recognizing and balancing interests, rights, and other activities, along with reciprocal duties to community and obligations to God.

A slave owner himself, Witherspoon denounced the domination and ownership of workers.

He even supported revolution when rulers did not use government to extend protection to the weak. He signed the Declaration of Independence on the grounds that Britain confiscated property and took away the fruits of industry and means of life. Witherspoon as a philosopher stood in essential agreement with Aristotle, Aquinas, and the classic tradition of natural law. He recognized the benefits for freedom and order of a good constitution, established law, and the making and keeping of contracts for ensuring the practice and habits that produce a wholesome morality.

He arrived as a well-known professor and a minister identified with the reformation movement within the Church of Scotland. Having fought valiantly for the establishment of the Free Church, McCosh went on to make his mark as professor of philosophy.

Philosophy of Common Sense

His essay on Stoic philosophy had made a stir in Segrest joins the work of Witherspoon and McCosh with the spirit and continuity of a historical period that, according to Alexis de Tocqueville, was a religious time. McCosh, Segrest argues, correctly criticized Kant and Mill for not articulating how conceptions of mind and body, personal identity, causation, and moral obligation reside within perception itself. As profoundly as he probed the abstractions of Kantian ethics and individualism, McCosh did not open himself to a dynamic life or a changing America.

In formulating pragmatism and revitalizing the commonsense and natural rights tradition, James converted an American understanding of life into a philosophy. Preparing him for passage from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, Segrest labels James a master phenomenologist who laid the basis for an existential pragmatism. James not only elevated human consciousness from the immediacy of awareness but also conceived it as a sum of all previous experience memory as it resides in the act of perception, conception, judgment, and will.

On this abstract epistemological basis, Segrest concludes that James did nothing less than reenergize both the commonsense and American political traditions by preparing its followers to enter the world on all levels; and they can make their entrance with inexhaustible hope of serving self, others, and nation without loss of freedom, reason, values, and God. In America and the Political Philosophy of Common Sense , Scott Segrest traces the history and explores the personal and social meaning of common sense as understood especially in American thought and as reflected specifically in the writings of three paradigmatic thinkers: John Witherspoon, James McCosh, and William James.

The first two represent Scottish Common Sense and the third, Pragmatism, the schools that together dominated American higher thought for nearly two centuries. Educated Americans of the founding period warmly received Scottish Common Sense, Segrest writes, because it reflected so well what they already thought, and he uncovers the basic elements of American common sense in examining the thought of Witherspoon, who introduced that philosophy to them.

With McCosh, he shows the furthest development and limits of the philosophy, and with it of American common sense in its Scottish realist phase. With James, he shows other dimensions of common sense that Americans had long embraced but that had never been examined philosophically.

American philosophy

It is a study of the American mind and of common sense itself—its essential character and its human significance, both moral and political. Table of Contents. Cover p. C Download Save. Contents pp. Abbreviations Used in the Text pp. Indeed he is not afraid to repeat his objections in his defence of himself. And there are indeed several points of contact to be observed. The first is this. Ferrier shares with Hamilton a largely unspoken assumption that the question of mind and world lies at the heart of philosophy. This assumption signalled a move away from the much broader conception of moral philosophy as both psychological and social inquiry, which as we have already noted, is characteristic of Ferguson, Hume, Adam Smith, and even Reid in part.

Ferrier's reputation rested upon an earlier series of essays on The Philosophy of Consciousness which appeared in Blackwood's Magazine between and In these essays he took his stand on the contention that consciousness implies the impossibility of a naturalistic science of mind, and in a later essay robustly defends a version of Berkeleyan idealism. His language it is true, has sometimes the appearance of paradox; but there is nothing paradoxical in his thoughts, and time has proved the adamantine solidity of his principles.

1. The Birth

In this way Ferrier, despite his disagreements, actually concurs with Reid's strictures on the kind of philosophical theorizing that tries to deploy Newtonian methods in the way that Hume does. Ferrier's philosophy, then, constitutes a further excursion in the common sense tradition, but one that sets itself at some considerable distance from Reid.

In sharp contrast, for Ferrier, Berkeley's philosophy with some additions of Ferrier's own is the answer to skepticism. It hardly needs to be said that this was a highly controversial position. This implication—that the methods of the sciences are inapplicable to philosophy—somewhat isolated Ferrier within Scottish philosophy.

Common Sense - Wikipedia

Though he was regarded with great acclaim in continental Europe, Scottish philosophers moved in different directions, some to an intensification of the experimental method, and some to Absolute Idealism. Of the first group, the most prominent and influential was Alexander Bain.

A man of remarkable gifts, he was appointed to the Chair largely on the strength of distinguished philosophical work he had published while working as a journalist in London, where he made the acquaintance of John Stuart Mill with whom he formed a lasting friendship. Dissertations on Leading Philosophical Question s , is a collection of his essays published in retirement, though almost all had originally appeared in the journal Mind , a journal he was instrumental in founding, In several of these essays, Bain takes Reid and Hamilton as his starting point and, broadly, follows the same methods.

A Political History

In America and the Political Philosophy of Common Sense, Scott Segrest traces the history and explores the personal and social meaning of common sense as. America and the Political Philosophy of Common Sense (Review)--Common sense political thought is a unique American tradition that supports American.

But, his sympathy with Mill and anti-metaphysical inclinations led him to push them in a much more strongly empirical direction. But whereas in Reid and Hume the distinction between philosophy and psychology as the modern world understands it, was unclear, it is one of Bain's chief claims to enduring significance that, as this quotation reveals, he brought the distinction between psychological and metaphysical questions to prominence, and in what we would call his research programme he gave priority to the former.

The conclusion to be drawn is that Bain, like Ferrier, can be seen to stand in the tradition of Scottish philosophy in the sense that he adopted its methods. But in contrast to Ferrier, he did so in ways that further removed the question of sensation and perception from the realms of traditional metaphysics, and pressed the study of the mind in the direction of empirical psychology.

Associationism is the application of empirical observation to the relation between ideas and experiences. What it seeks is observed regularities, in the hope of formulating psychological laws that will enable us to order the contents of mind.

Why Thomas Paine's Common Sense Is Important: Chris Hedges & Cornel West (2014)

Two such principles—Contiguity and Similarity—were widely accepted, and identified by Bain as being employed by Reid and Hamilton. However, for present purposes his arguments are interesting chiefly not so much for their elaboration of associationism, but for the light they throw on the development of Scottish philosophy in the nineteenth century.

One point in particular seems to me illuminating. In the dispute between Reid and Hume with respect to the operations of the mind one of the fundamental points of difference is this. Reid is trying, in the main, to establish basic principles of the mind's operation which will vindicate its rationality, and hence avoid the depths of skepticism into which Hume's account forces it.

Now in terms of this difference, Bain is of Hume's persuasion. What this remark reveals is that Bain is interested first in establishing empirical laws with respect to the contents of the human mind.

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In this respect he is employing Hume's rather than Reid's conception of human nature. Certainly he reserves judgement on the final outcome of these investigations with respect to philosophy, arguing only for the priority of psychology over metaphysics and not, as Hume may be said to do, for the elimination of the second by the first.

But so far as the science of mind that had been such a marked feature of Scottish philosophy goes, Bain clearsightedly pursues its more empirical ambitions. No one can be called a philosopher who merely knows and says, that in dreaming or madness this mental representation tends to be associated with that. The philosopher aspires, rather, to make sense of experience, and the whole point about the experience of the dreamer or the madman is that no sense is to be made of it. By contrast, the empirical psychologist, seriously committed to the experimental method, does not, in the end, render consciousness intelligible; he or she simply describes how the mind works.

With Ferrier and Bain, then, the tension within Scottish philosophy that Davie has identified is resolved in radically different ways, the first by a return to metaphysics, the second by an advance to psychology. Both can claim to be inheritors of the Scottish tradition, but both in their different ways may be said to have brought about its demise. With Bain, the nature of the demise is evident; the philosophy of mind is replaced by empirical psychology. With Ferrier, the nature of the demise is rather different. Faced with the prospect of returning to Berkeleyan metaphysics, several prominent Scottish philosophers preferred to look elsewhere, namely to Germany and Hegel.

The result was that as the century ended a group of philosophers based chiefly in the Universities of Glasgow and St Andrews and known as the Scottish Idealists came to prominence. Pringle-Pattison does not say who it is he has in mind, but a knowledge of the period makes it relatively easy to surmise. In fact Seth himself he changed his name to Pringle-Pattison in is normally identified as one, being joint editor with R B Haldane of Essays in Philosophical Criticism , which came to be regarded as the Scottish Idealists' philosophical manifesto.

An interest in, and a knowledge of, Kant can be found to go back to Hamilton, and far from being regarded as a threat to the Scottish tradition was recognized by Veitch, for instance as an important part of its enrichment. The German philosophy referred to here, then, is that which emanated from Hegel.

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The Secret of Hegel is the title of a very large book by James Hutchison Stirling Hamilton's Idealist critic , first published in Stirling is credited with bringing Hegel to the attention of British and not just Scottish philosophy for the first time, though a wit at the time remarked that if Stirling did know the secret of Hegel, he had kept it to himself! Though Stirling was, in modern terms, a layman he held no university post the book was well received. Combined with his critical volume on Hamilton published just one year later, Stirling's work key to the diminishing interest in the Common Sense tradition within Scottish philosophy and the increasing influence of German Idealism and Hegel in particular, a development that may be said to have culminated in the first complete English translation of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit in by J.