The Common Sense by GADAMER (Chapter 1)

5 min readDec 26, 2020


I have always thought of common sense as something to question. For example, proverbs are a condensation of meaning, becoming an example of dialectic between opposite poles, which brings a balance in their apparent contradiction.

Gadamer retraces the history of common sense: one Greek root origin and one Roman, this later then developed by Vico, linked with the civic sense.

Gadamer points the distinction about the value of abstract knowledge and subjective knowledge. In my traditional schooling, I have grown with the idea of giving value to the other (the teacher, authority, and the textbook) above my own point of view. How can I give a value of my subjective knowledge if I have to only replicate the codified knowledge in the lesson, the course, the chapter?

Some pedagogical approaches as the Knowledge Building Model of Scardamialia & Bereteir are proposed to give authority to the pupil’s production of knowledge: the students are scaffolded by the teacher to enhancing their personal contribution to the formal and already formalised scientific knowledge.

Gadamer evokes the value of the humanistic culture versus the scientific culture and how this superiority of science over humanism was created. The STEM rhetoric as implicit superiority on humanism is still live in many contexts. I went to a pedagogical high school. A somewhat “announced” choice: at the time of enrollment I knew that the pedagogical high school was considered by everyone in the village as inferior to the scientific high school (considered the school for all the figli di papà). As I am in a working family, my lack of cultural capital and a predisposition for the humanistic rather than the scientific subjects, led to an inscription to the pedagogical high school. Along the way, a personal crisis of meaning led me to take a second diploma as a private practitioner in scientific subjects: I wanted to have the access to the pure “scientific” knowledge. After having conquered my personal challenge battle between humanism and scientific approach, I never even withdrew my scientific diploma and I was able to consolidate myself in my validity of humanistic knowledge.

However, along the way, I abandoned the interest in the philosophy and in my gourmand pleasure of literature, which nourished me for many years: the pleasure of reading without any utility versus the knowledge encoded in slides, notes, pdf, chapters and texts useful for the university evaluations.

Later for the university enrollment, the choice of psychology was greeted with reflections of “common sense” from my personal network at that time: you will not find a job; you will end up working in prisons; you will end up being an educator; it is useless. Was my social network the holder of a space of truth as a sense commune? The pressures on my school choice were brought by a peasant and pragmatic culture to which I belong: le Bon sens refers to the “milieu social” (Bergson).

In Chapter 1, Gadamer examines the hermeneutic value of common sense, as en element of social and moral being: “While the other senses relate us to things, ‘good sense’ governs our relations with persons” (p. 85).

The analysis of the common-sense concept leads to the discussion of taste. The true sense of community, says Kant, is taste. In this period of Christmas at home in Apulia region, in Italy, the taste is a true sense of community, expressed in the food, the social rituals, and in the space to visit.

Trulli in Apulia region, Italy

As explain Gadamer, the concept of taste was originally more moral than an aesthetic idea: “The concept of taste undoubtedly implies a mode of knowing. The mark of good taste is being able to stand back from ourselves and our private preferences. Thus taste, in its essential nature, is not private but a social phenomenon of the first order.”

The taste is topic widely explored also in Anthropology, opening some links with the topic of Mimesis, explored here by Christoph Wulf:

A phenomenon closely connected with taste in fashion: “By contrast, the phenomenon of taste is an intellectual faculty of differentiation. Taste operates in a community but is not subservient to it”.

As I understand from the Gadamer reading, the specific and the general are linked in common sense, as the private to the collective: “Both taste and judgment evaluate the object in relation to a whole in order to see whether it fits in with everything else — that is, whether it is “fitting.” One must have a “sense” for it — it cannot be demonstrated”.

“Thus taste is in no way limited to what is beautiful in nature and art, judging it in respect to its decorative quality, but embraces the whole realm of morality and manners. » In the same time, like law, morality is constantly developed through the fecundity of the individual case: « Follows that all moral decisions require taste — which does not mean that this most individual balancing of decision is the only thing that governs them, but it is an indispensable element. »

We will see that Kant’s grounding of aesthetics on the judgment of taste does justice to both aspects of the phenomenon: its empirical non-universal and its a priori claim to universality. However, Kant denies tasting any significance as knowledge. He reduces sensus communis to a subjective principle. In taste, nothing is known of the objects judged to be beautiful, but it is stated only that there is a feeling of pleasure connected with them a priori in the subjective consciousness.

The discussion is complex. I lost sometimes in the following lines of concepts and interpretations…

In the end, I can consider, common sense is the social participation of an individual into the community, making sense of others, objects and experiences, with the aim to make a personal discernment (from the global to the particular; from the general to the specific) to bring back and share into the community.




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