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How to Acquire Common Sense Common Sense is a science, whatever may be said; according to Yoritomo, it does not blossom naturally in the minds of men; it demands cultivation, and the art of reasoning is acquired like all the faculties which go to make up moral equilibrium. “This quality,” said the philosopher, “is obscure and intangible, like the air we breathe. “Like the air we breathe, it is necessary to our existence, it surrounds us, envelops us, and is indispensable to the harmony of our mental life. “To acquire this precious gift, many conditions are obligatory, the principle ones being: “Sincerity of perception. “Art of the situation. “Attention. “Approximation. “Experience. “Comparison. “Analysis. “Synthesis. “Destination. “Direction. “And lastly the putting of the question. “It is very clear that without exactness of perception we could not pretend to judge justly; it would then be impossible for us to hear the voice of common sense, if we did not strive to develop it. “Perception is usually combined with what they call in philosophical language adaptation. “Otherwise it is difficult, when recognizing a sensation, not to attribute it at once to the sentiment which animated it at the time of its manifestation. “The first condition, then, in the acquiring of common sense is to maintain perfection in all its pristine exactness, by abstracting the contingencies which could influence us. “If we do not endeavor to separate from our true selves the suggestions of sense-consciousness, we shall reach the point where perception is transformed into conception, that is to say, we shall no longer obtain reality alone, but a modified reality. “With regard to perception, if we understand its truthfulness; it will be a question for reawakening it, of placing ourselves mentally in the environment where it was produced, and of awakening the memory, so as to be able to distinguish, without mistake, the limits within which it is narrowly confined. “The art of situation consists in reproducing, mentally, past facts, allowing for the influence of the surroundings at that time, as compared with the present environment. “One must not fail to think about the influences to which one has been subjected since this time. “It is possible that life during its development in the aspirant to common sense may have changed the direction of his first conceptions either by conversation or by reading or by the reproduction of divers narrations. “It would then be a lack of common sense to base an exact recollection of former incidents on the recent state of being of the soul, without seeking to reproduce the state of mind in which one was at the epoch when those incidents occurred. “Activity of mind, stimulated to the utmost, is able to give a color to preceding impressions, which they never have had, and, in this case again, the recollection will be marred by inexactness. “The art of situation requires the strictest application and on this account it is a valuable factor in the acquirement of common sense. “Attention vitalizes our activity in order to accelerate the development of a definite purpose toward which it can direct its energy. “It could be analyzed as follows: “First, to see; “Secondly, to hear. “The functions of the other senses come afterward, and their susceptibility can attract our attention to the sensations which they give us, such as the sense of smell, of touch, of taste. “These purely physical sensations possess, however, a moral signification, from which we are permitted to make valuable deductions. “The first two have three distinct phases: “First degree, to see. “Second degree, to look. “Third degree, to observe. “If we see a material, its color strikes us first and we say: I have seen a red or yellow material, and this will be all. “Applying ourselves more closely, we look at it and we define the peculiarities of the color. We say: it is bright red or dark red. “In observing it we determine to what use it is destined. “The eye is attracted by: “The color. “The movement. “The form. “The number. “The duration. “We have just spoken of the color. “The movement is personified by a series of gestures that people make or by a series of changes to which they subject things. “The form is represented by the different outlines. “The number by their quantity. “The duration by their length; one will judge of the length of time it takes to walk a road by seeing the length of it. “The act of listening is divided into three degrees. “First degree, to hear. “Second degree, to understand. “Third degree, to reflect. “If some one walking in the country hears a dog bark he perceives first a sound: this is the act of hearing. “He will distinguish that this sound is produced by the barking of a dog; this is the act of understanding. “Reflection will lead him then to think that a house or a human being is near, for a dog goes rarely alone. “If the things which are presented to our sight are complex, those which strike our ears are summed up in one word, sound, which has only one definition, the quality of the sound. “Then follow the innumerable categories of sound that we distinguish only by means of comprehension and reflection, rendered so instinctive by habit that we may call them automatic, so far as those which relate to familiar sounds. “The example which we have just given is a proof of this fact. “Let us add that this habit develops each sensitive faculty to its highest degree. “The inhabitants of the country can distinguish each species of bird by listening to his song; and the hermits, the wanderers, those who live with society on a perpetual war footing, perceive sounds which would not strike the ears of civilized people. “Approximation is also one of the stones by whose aid we construct the edifice of common sense. “Concerning the calculations of probabilities, the application of approximation will allow us to estimate the capacity or the probable duration of things. “We can not say positively whether a man will live a definite number of years but we can affirm that he will never live until he is two hundred. “There are, for approbation, certain known limits which serve as a basis for the construction of reasoning, inspired by common sense. “It can be affirmed, in a positive way, that, if the trunk of a tree were floating easily, without sinking to the bottom of the water, it would not float the same if thirty men were to ride astride of it. “The initial weight of the tree permits it to maintain itself on the surface; but if it be increased to an exaggerated total, we can, without hesitation, calculate indirectly the moment when it will disappear, dragging with it the imprudent men who trusted themselves to it. “Everything in life is a question of approximation. “The house which is built for a man will be far larger than the kennel, destined to shelter a dog, because the proportions have been calculated, by approximation, according to the relative difference between the stature of the human and canine species. “Clothing is also suited to the temperature. “One naturally thinks that, below a certain degree of cold, it is necessary to change light clothes for those made of thicker material. “As with the majority of the constructive elements of common sense, approximation is always based on experience. “It draws its conclusions from the knowledge of known limitations, whose affirmation serves as a basis for the argument which determines deduction in a most exact manner. “Experience itself depends on memory, which permits us to recall facts and to draw our conclusions from them, on which facts reasoning is based.” The Shogun does not fail to draw our attention to the difference between experience and experimentation. “This last,” said he, “only serves to incite the manifestation of the first. “It consists of determining the production of a phenomenon whose existence will aid us in establishing the underlying principles of an observation which interprets the event. “That is what is called experience. “Comparison is a mental operation which permits us to bring things that we desire to understand to a certain point. “It is comparison which has divided time according to periods, which the moon follows during its entire length. “It is by comparing their different aspects and by calculating the duration of their transformations, that men have been able to divide time as they do in all the countries of the world. “The science of numbers is also born of comparison, which has been established between the quantities that they represent. “This is the art of calculating the differences existing between each thing, by determining the relativeness of their respective proportions. “Comparison acts on the mind automatically, as a rule. “It is indispensable to the cultivation of common sense, for it furnishes the means of judging with full knowledge of all the circumstances. “Analysis is an operation, which consists of separating each detail from the whole and of examining these details separately, without losing sight of their relationship to the central element. “Analysis of the same object, while being scrupulously exact, can, however, differ materially in its application, according to the way that the object is related to this or that group of circumstances. “There are, however, immutable things. “For example: the letters of the alphabet, the elementary sounds, the colors etc., etc. “It suffices to quote only these three elements; one can easily understand that the most elaborate manuscript is composed of only a definite number of letters always repeating themselves, whose juxtaposition forms phrases, then chapters, and finally the complete work. “Music is composed only of seven sounds whose different combinations produce an infinite variety of melodies. “Elementary colors are only three in number. “All the others gravitate around them. “Therefore, these same letters, these same notes, these same colors, according to their amalgamation, can change in aspect and cooperate in the production of different effects. “The same letters can express, according to the order in which they are placed, terror or confidence, joy or grief. “The same is true of notes and colors. “Common sense ought then, considering these rules, to know how to analyze all the details and, having done this, to coordinate and to classify them, in order to distinguish them easily. “Coordination and classification form an integral part of common sense.” And Yoritomo, who delights in reducing the most complex questions to examples of the rarest simplicity, says to us: “I am supposing that one person says to another, I have just met a negro. The interlocutor, as well as he who mechanically registers this fact, without thinking, gives himself up to analysis and to coordination which always precedes synthesis. “Without being aware of this mental action, their minds will be occupied first with the operations of perception then of classification. “This negro was a man of a color which places him in a certain group of the human race. “It is always thus that common sense proceeds, its principal merit being to know how to unite present perceptions with those previously cognized, then to understand how to coordinate them so as to be able to group them concretely, that is to say, to synthesize them. “Destination is defined as the purpose or object, born of deduction and of classification. “Destination does not permit of losing sight of the end which is proposed. “It allows the consideration of the purpose to predominate always, and directs all actions toward this purpose, these actions being absolutely the demonstrations of this unique thought. “Habits, acquired in view of certain realizations, ought to be dropt from the moment the purpose is accomplished, or that it is weakened.” It is by absolutely perpetuating those habits, whose pretext has disappeared, that one sees the achievement of certain actions which have been roughly handled by common sense. “There are,” again says the philosopher, “certain customs, whose origin it is impossible to remember; at the time of their birth, they were engendered by necessity, but even tho their purpose be obliterated, tradition has preserved them in spite of everything, and those who observe them do not take into consideration their absurdity. “People of common sense refrain from lending themselves to these useless practises, or, if they consent to allow them a place in their thoughts it is that they attribute to them some reason for existence, either practical or sentimental.” Direction is indicated by circumstances, by environment, or by necessity. There is direction of resolutions as well as direction of a journey; it is necessary, from the beginning, to consider well the choice of a good route, after having done everything possible to discriminate carefully between it and all other routes proposed. It happens, however, that the way leads also through the cross-roads; it is even indispensable to leave the short cuts in order to trace the outline of the obstacles. Direction is, then, an important factor in the acquiring of common sense. The putting of the question takes its character from comparison, from experience, and principally from approximation; but it is in itself a synthesis of all the elements which compose common sense. He who wishes to acquire common sense should be impregnated with all that has preceded. Then he will discipline himself, so as to be able to judge, by himself, of the degree of reason which he has the right to assume. He will begin by evoking some subject, comparing its visual forms with, those forms which he understands the best, in other words, to the perceptions which are the most familiar to him. If it concerns a question to be solved, he will try to recall some similar subject, and establish harmony, by making them both relative to a common antecedent. Yoritomo advises choosing simple thoughts for the beginning. “One will say, for example: “Such a substance is a poison; the seeds of this fruit contain a weak dose of it; these seeds could then become a dangerous food, if one absorbed a considerable quantity. “Common sense will thus indicate a certain abstaining from eating of it. “Then one may extend his argument to things of a greater importance, but taking great care to keep within the narrow limits of rudimentary logic. “One must be impregnated with this principle: “Two things equal to a third demand an affirmative judgment or decision. “In the opposite case the negative deduction is enjoined. “It is by deductions from the most ordinary facts that one succeeds in making common sense intervene automatically in all our judgments. “What would be thought of one who, finding himself in a forest at the time of a violent storm, would reason as follows: “First: The high summits attract lightning. “Secondly: Here is a giant tree. “Thirdly: I’m going to take refuge there. “Then it is that common sense demands that the state his three propositions as follows: “First: High summits attract lightning. “Secondly: Here is a giant tree. “Thirdly: I’m going to avoid its proximity because it will surely be dangerous. “If he acted otherwise; if, in spite of his knowledge of the danger, he took shelter under the branches of the gigantic tree, exposing himself to be struck by lightning, one could, in this case, only reproach him with imprudence and lay the blame to the lack of common sense which allowed him to perform the act that logic condemned.” Now the old Nippon speaks to us of the means to employ, that we may avoid pronouncing too hasty judgments, which are always, of necessity, weakened by a too great indulgence for ourselves and at the same time too great a severity for others. “I was walking one day,” said he, “on the shores of a lake, when I discovered a man sitting at the foot of a bamboo tree, in an attitude of the greatest despair. “Approaching him, I asked him the cause of his grief. “‘Alas!’ said he to me, ‘the gods are against me; everything which I undertake fails, and all evils crush me. “‘After the one which has just befallen me only one course of action is left to me, to throw myself in the lake. But I am young, and I am weeping for myself before resolving to take such a step.’ “And he related to me how, after many attempts without success, he had at last gained a certain sum of money, the loss of which he had just experienced. “In what way did you lose it?” I asked him. “‘I put it in this bag.’ “‘Has some one stolen it?’ “‘No, it has slipt through this rent.’ “And he showed me a bag, whose ragged condition confirmed, and at the same time illustrated his statement. “‘Listen,’ said I, sitting down beside him, ‘you are simply devoid of common sense, by invoking the hatred of the gods! You alone are the cause of your present misery. “‘If you had simply reasoned before placing your money in this bag, this would not have happened to you.’ “And as he opened his eyes wide: “‘You would have thought this,’ I resumed: “‘The material, very much worn, is incapable of standing any weight without tearing. “‘Now, the money which I possess is heavy, my bag is worn out. “‘I shall not, therefore, put my money in this bag or, at least, I shall take care to line it beforehand with a solid piece of leather. “‘From this moment,’ I proceeded, ‘there only remains one thing for you to do, always consult common sense before coming to any conclusion, and you will always succeed. “‘As for your opinion concerning the hatred of the gods for you, if you will once more call common sense to your assistance you will reason as follows: “‘Gracious divinities protect only wise people. “‘Now, I have acted like a fool. “‘It is, therefore, natural that they should turn away from me.’ “How many useless imprecations would be avoided,” adds the Shogun, “if it were given to men to know how to employ the arguments which common sense dictates, in order to distribute the weight of the mistakes committed among those who deserve the burden, without, at the same time, forgetting to assume our own share of the responsibility if we have erred. “Nothing is more sterile than regrets or reproaches when they do not carry with them the resolution never again to fall into the same error.” Afterward the philosopher demonstrates to us the necessity of abstracting all personality from the exercises which combine for the attainment of common sense. “There is,” said he, “an obstacle against which all stupid people stumble; it is the act of reasoning under the influence of passion. “Those who have not decided to renounce this method of arguing will never be able to give a just decision. “There are self-evident facts, which certain people refuse to admit, because this statement of the truth offends their sympathies or impedes their hatreds, and they force themselves to deny the evidence, hoping thus to deceive others regarding it. “But truth is always the strongest and they soon become the solitary dupes of their own wilful blindness. “The man of common sense knows how to recognize falsehood wherever he meets it; he knows how vain it is to conceal a positive fact and also how dangerous it is to deceive oneself, a peril which increases in power, in proportion to the effort made to ignore it. “He does not wish to imitate those pusillanimous people who prefer to live in the agony of doubt rather than to look misfortunes in the face. He who is determined to acquire common sense will use the following argument: “Doubt is a conflict between two conclusions. “So long as it exists it is impossible to adopt either. “Serenity is unknown to those whom doubt attacks. “To obtain peace, it is necessary to become enlightened. “However, it is wise always to foresee the least happy issue and to prepare to support the consequences. “The man who thinks thus will be stronger than adversity and will know how to struggle with misfortune without allowing it to master him.” It is in these terms that Yoritomo initiates us into what he calls the mechanism of common sense; in other words, the art of acquiring by the simplest reasoning this quality dull as iron, but, like it, also solid and durable.


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