Some words or terms are thrown about in casual conversation – but also have formal meanings, and meanings that still have practical (including political) importance.
“Common Sense” and “Pragmatism” are two examples of this.
The “Common Sense” School of philosophy (sometimes known as the “Scottish Philosophy” – see James McCosh’s book of 1877 with that title) grow up in opposition to certain doubts promoted by David Hume and others.
“Common Sense” philosophers such as Thomas Reid held the following things:
That the physical universe actually existed – that it was not just an illusion in the mind.
That the mind itself (the “I”) also existed that it was not an illusion (for if the mind is an illusion – who is having the illusion?), that thoughts really did mean a thinker. An agent, a being – that we exist and that (as agents/beings) we have the ability to choose (agency). And that our choices are real ones – not illusions hiding either a series of causes and effects going back to the start of the universe, or random chance. For choice is neither predetermined (for that is no choice) or random chance (for that is no choice either) – choice is what it is, neither predetermined or chance. Choice is choice.
And that as we have the ability to choose we can choose between good and evil – and that these are real things also, not just “boo and cheer words” (to take a line from the Logical Positivist A.J. Ayre – for a refutation see C.E.M. Joad “A Critique of Logical Positivism” London, 1950), but are objective things which we as subjects (not just objects) can choose between.
On all of the above the Common Sense school are in agreement with the Aristotelians. Both religious Aristotelians (such as the Roman Catholic scholastics who stretch from the Schoolmen in the Middle Ages right to people in our time) and atheist Aristotelians – such as Randian Objectivists.
Although the forms of words (the methods) are very different the Common Sense school were even in agreement with the Aristotelians are on what are good acts and what are bad acts – for example the Non-Aggression Principle was broadly accepted, as much by scholastics in the Middle Ages as by 18th and 19th century Common Sense thinkers as by modern thinkers of these schools of thought.
But why is the name important? After all, for example, the 17th century Englishman Ralph Cudworth supported all of the above – without ever calling himself a “Common Sense” thinker?
Also the 20th century Oxford thinkers Harold Prichard and Sir William David Ross and others (have no fear I am not going to get into details over disputes over the exact difference between the “right” and the “good” – I am trying to deal with basic principles) held all the above – again without calling themselves “Common Sense” thinkers.
Indeed I think our learned friend Antony Flew would agree with all the above – the universe really exists (is objective), our minds (our selves) really exist as beings (we are agents – we have the ability of agency, we can choose), and good and bad (right and wrong) really exist – calling rape “good” does not stop it being evil.
However, I can not remember Antony Flew calling himself a “Common Sense” thinker. So, again, why the importance of the words?
Because they still have an impact – when a person who says they are offering “common sense solutions” it is likely they are going to support certain principles (all of the above) – it is even a sign (at least in an American context) what there political opinions are.
This term also has a deeper use than ordinary conversation might suggest (although even ordinary conversation does sometimes suggest it).
The “Pragmatist” school of American philosophy.
I must be careful here – after all Charles Pierce (considered the founder of the school) was more interested in logic than in ethics, and John Dewey (the best known of the school) had different philosophical positions in his long life, and towards the end of his life actually became rather hostile to what I am about to describe…
However, when one uses the term “Pragmatist” in ethics it is still the words of William James that define what one is talking about – “the right is just the expedient in our way of thinking”.
No objective good and evil, no right and wrong. Whatever James intended it is not a streatch to go straight from “the right is just the expedient in our way of thinking” to the “good and evil are just boo and cheer words” of A.J. Ayer or even the ends-justify-the-means evil (for it is evil) of people like Saul Alinsky and his modern political followers.
Of course there are other streams than “Pragmatism” in this river of thought.
For example, the thinking of the Apostles Club at Cambridge and Bloomsbury Set in London was dominated by what J.M. Keynes called (and he intended it as praise) “immoralism”.
Any tactic – any lie or deception (even in a formal academic work) was justified if it furthered the cause. And what was the cause – the rule of an “enlightened” elite. People like Keynes did not need American Pragmatists to tutor them – but only because they came to the same conclusions by different roads.
It is an old conclusion – the belief that right and wrong are for lesser beings, that one is beyond such things (they being just silly subjective myths anyway).
In politics the followers of “Pragmatism” wish to “get things done” – regardless of what wickedness must be used to do them, for they smile with contempt at the word “wickedness” just as they do the words “right and wrong, good and evil”.
Their great strength is that they will do anything (anything at all) to achieve their objectives – and their objective is power, influence, control.
But this is also a weakness – in a way that they can not understand.
Lastly a warning:
It is sometimes said that we should “use their methods against them”, this is often a terrible error. For their methods tend towards their objectives.
For the religious this indicates that God so designed the universe that evil methods tend towards evil conclusions – the atheist may reject the idea of a “God”, but accept that the universe is like this. The result is the same – not only do the ends not justify the means, but the means have a way of influencing the ends (the results) to be in their own form.