What is Common Sense?"Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by the age of eighteen." Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955) Physicist & Nobel LaureateWhat is Einstein trying to...

What is Common Sense?

"Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by the age of eighteen." Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955) Physicist & Nobel Laureate

What is Einstein trying to say? He's criticising common sense as unthinking socially-received prejudice. It is a collosal challenge to conventional, mainstream opinion. Why? What is wrong with common sense? Surely common sense is, well, common sense?

Expert Answers
morrol eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It sounds like Einstein agrees with the Marxist literary theorist, Louis Althusser. Althusser horrified me in college when he proposed that we are all "interpolated" into our society. The result of this interpolation is that any decision we ever make, any choice we ever make, is predetermined by the society in which we live. Althusser takes it even further than Einstein and says that not only is our common sense a result of our social influence, but every idea we ever have can only exist, and is only a result of our place in time and society.

"Every 'subject' endowed with a 'conciousness' and believing in the 'ideas' that his 'consciousnes' inspires in him and freely accepts, must ' act according to his ideas', must therefore inscribe his own practice as a free subject in the actions of his material practice" Althusser, L. (1970), "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses",157.


"No human, i.e. social individual can be the agent of a practice if he does not have the form of a subject. The 'subject-form' is actually the form of the historical existence of every individual, of every agent of social practices." Althusser, L. (1973), "Reply to John Lewis" in Essays in Self-Criticism (1976), pp. 33-100, 95. ISBN 902308-87-4.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

On another discussion board, Emerson was disparaged for encouraging people to be non-conformists, yet Einstein would seem to encourage the exploration of thought that Emerson advocates.  For, he states,

With consistency [conventional opinion?] a great soul has simply nothing to do....Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again though it contradict everything you said today--'Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood'--

Perhaps Emerson and Einstein are expressing the same opinion:  "Think for yourself"; using common--ordinary, shared alike, belonging to the community, of mediocre or inferior quality--thought is not "self-reliance."

ask996 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

By it’s vary nature "common" implies ideas being shared by a certain population. That’s not always a good thing, and it negates the necessity of thinking for oneself. Independent and creative thinking is something most of today’s students don’t get encouraged enough to do.

krishna-agrawala | Student

A very interesting topic for discussion. I wish enotes will have more of such discussion topics.

Common sense is supposed to be something which is quite common for all people including common people to have, and, I hope, by this logic I also should have some of it. But when I tried to think what really common sense is, I was unable to think of any objective description that would be reasonably acceptable to common man. So I referred Chamber's Dictionary, and found that the noun sense has 21 different meanings. No wonder there so so much confusion about the phrase common sense.

I have noticed one interesting thing about common sense. People generally use this phrase to point affirm its presence in themselves, and absence in others. Rarely do I come across situation when people affirm presence of common sense in others or absence in themselves.

Common sense is a very popular tools used in arguments. It is used to prove an argument you support or dismiss an argument you oppose. This is done by simply claiming that what you say is common sense and what your opponents say is against common sense.

Coming to Einstein's views on common sense, I would like to believe that, he may have used this description of common sense in a specific situation to emphasize the need for continued learning and readiness to challenge established beliefs rather than as an accurate definition. Socially received prejudices are part of any society's culture, and to that extent fairly well definable within each society. However, what is described as common sense a matter of common sense in a society has no consistency. It changes from person to person and from situation to situation.