Philosophers, Common Sense & the Experience of Mankind
The Western Democratic Tradition by LJM Cooray

Philosophers (including religious leaders) have been immensely influential in moulding human perceptions of the role of humans in society and their relationship with their government.

Philosophers have been influential in the development of the western democratic order. The order has no Marx and Engels. There is no one theory which could be said to constitute its basis. The values and institutions of the tradition are essentially the product of an historical evolution in which philosophers were influential.

This is not to deny that writers, theorists and philosophers were not influential. Political and constitutional crises invariably led to pamphleteering and writing. Some of the grievances were fuelled by the pamphlets. The consequent events were perhaps influenced by the writings. As S Ratnapala says,

"But the grievances related to felt conditions and the responses were those to which men had been drawn throughout history when faced with arbitrary or despotic government." S Ratnapala, The Constitutional Lawyer and the Protection of Liberty, unpublished paper, p 7.

The significant influence of the Judeo-Christian ethic and moral values is analysed above.

An old Chinese proverb says

"A pound of knowledge requires 10 pounds of common sense to convert it into wisdom".

What is "common sense"? "Common sense" is more complex than the crude hunch or so called intuition. It is a characteristic of the human mind which assimilates countless experiences and suggestions. These experiences and suggestions are so numerous that they cannot be reduced or articulated into explanations. Nevertheless "common sense" is based on real cumulative experience which the human mind translates into propositions. Intellectuals today dismiss anything that cannot be explained. The truth is that as a consequence of the infinite variability of circumstances, not everything can be explained and articulated by verbal means. This is particularly true in the area of human action and conduct (as distinct from the area of investigation of the scientist). This does not mean that the human mind does not schematise experience and that all opinions which cannot be explained are unfounded in reality. The truth is often the converse. It is for this reason that "common sense" is entitled to respect. "Common sense" is not common. It is very uncommon in academia.

The accumulated experience played an important role in the evolution of the values and institutions of the western tradition particularly the common law — statute law delineation of freedom (including the basis on which legislative change could legitimately be introduced). The history of the common law provides an illustration of the operation of "common sense".