29th June 2013: Common Sense by Richard Gunn
On Saturday June 29th from 2 – 4pm in the Central library in Edinburgh, please join us for an afternoon with Richard Gunn who will be telling us about Common Sense
Name of speaker and subject:
Richard Gunn – Common Sense
Title of talk:
Scottish Common Sense Philosophy and its Implications
Bullet points of what you would like to cover:
• What does the term ‘common sense’ mean, in Scottish philosophy?
• Who were the ‘common sense’ philosophers?
• How may the notion of ‘common sense’ be developed (a) in theory and (b) in practice?
• Is, for example, a meeting of the Ragged University an instance of ‘common sense’ at work?
• Why, in the 1980s, did George Davie’s work on common sense serve as a beacon to “alternative” currents of Scottish thought?
• Can the beacon be reignited in the 2010s?
Suggested you-tube links, websites and / or texts where further information may be found:
The material that I would like to draw upon/cover falls into three categories.
First, there are the works of mainly eighteenth-century Scottish writers, e.g. Francis Hutcheson An Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions and Affections (pp. 15-8 of the current Liberty Press edition); Adam Smith The Theory of Moral Sentiments; Thomas Reid An Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense; and Thomas Reid ‘On Common Sense’ (given as an appendix to Louis Marcil-Lacoste Claude Buffier and Thomas Reid).
Second, there are the works of George Davie. Davie’s most notable books are The Democratic Intellect (originally published in 1961, with a new edition forthcoming) and The Crisis of the Democratic Intellect (1986). Other works include two collections of essays: The Scottish Enlightenment and Other Essays and A Passion for Ideas.
Third, there are journals published during the 1980s: the Edinburgh Review of that period and the small journal Common Sense. (Note Davie’s short piece headed ‘On Common Sense’ in Common Sense No. 5.) The full run of Common Sense may be consulted at http://commonsensejournal.org.uk; my own website (http://www.richard-gunn.com) contains some of the relevant material.
A note: because this question on the Ragged University form asks about ‘texts’, my suggested presentation sounds as though it will be bookish. Although my presentation will (necessarily) refer to books, bookishness isn’t my intention!
A few words about you and your passion:
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, George Davie was one of my university teachers. Later in George’s life, I became a friend. In the 1980s, I was a founder-member of the Common Sense editorial collective: the journal’s title reflects – directly or indirectly – the influence of George Davie’s thought. In the last two decades of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first, the cause of common sense (sensus communis) has been in abeyance. I can’t see why the position can’t be reversed.
A few lines about the history of your subject:
The above comments give an overall account of the relevant history. In philosophy, the notion of ‘common sense’ reaches back to the Ancient Greeks and Ancient Romans; it was given renewed emphasis in the eighteenth century. It played an important role in Scottish Enlightenment thinking (see above references). Oversimplifying a complex development, the term enjoyed an uncertain and intermittent existence until scholarship related to Davie underlined the theme. What interests me is that, following Davie’s work, the term ‘common sense’ became not merely a scholarly term but the rallying point of a cluster of political and educational and cultural ideas.