common sense. Sound practical judgment that is independent of specialized knowledge and training; normal native intelligence. What is thought to be common sense may differ widely in different cultures. [see: Geertz, Common Sense as a Cultural System"]
As defined in the influential writings of the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) 'common sense' is the embedded, incoherent and spontaneous beliefs and assumptions characterizing the conformist thinking of the mass of people in a given social order. All people and not only specialist professional intellectuals are 'philosophers', writes Gramsci. However, while their 'spontaneous philosophy' contains an element of practical empirical knowledge termed 'good sense' which is the germ of an alternative world-view, it is in the main composed of superstition, folklore, simple religious beliefs and the deposits of previous philosophy (Gramsci 1971a: 323 - 6). As Gramsci makes clear, common sense is established by a process of consent to ruling class attitudes and interests which are thereby accepted by society at large as being in its own general interests. What is specific and partial is therefore universalized and what is cultural is naturalized to the point of being taken for granted in a view of the world as simply 'the way things are'. In a connected and extremely influential concept in Gramsci's writings this process is then understood as vital to the maintenance of economic and political hegemony. Common sense penetrates deeply within the mental life of a society but it is not unchanging. It is the task of intellectuals, writes Gramsci, to criticize the 'chaotic aggregate of disparate conceptions' comprising common sense and so instil 'new popular beliefs . . . a new common sense and with it a new culture and a new philosophy' (1971a: 422, 424). This requires conscious political work and education to engender criticism of established common sense and so articulate a coherent philosophy which will be the foundation of an alternative hegemony. While 'going beyond common sense', criticism and philosophy (virtually synonymous terms and, along with the description 'philosophy of praxis', coded words in Gramsci's text for Marxism) must work from within popular attitudes. As he writes, 'the starting point must always be that common sense which is the spontaneous philosophy of the multitude and which has to be made ideologically coherent' (1971a: 421).
Common sense and its cognate terms therefore represent a significant contribution from within the Marxist tradition to an understanding of the part played by culture, consciousness and ideology, rather than political and economic structures alone, in shaping and transforming society. The term has been much used in conjunction with other non-Marxist concepts in different forms of cultural analysis. Also, while Gramsci's ideas derive from a developed political rather than cultural or artistic theory, there are affinities between the work of the political intellectual as described by him and the activities developed in the traditions of artistic modernism, and of estrangement. See also alienation effect; critique. [From: Brooker, 1999.]