The Dignity ofCommon Sense

The sensus communis is the specifically human sense because communication, i.e., speech, depends on it. (LKPP, p. 70)

The dignity of common sense lies in the way it allows us to share the world and human reality. Arendt uses sensus communis to denote both this capacity and the longing to share and belong.

Personal Taste and a Longing to Belong

In judgment, the claim to give due attention is combined with the urge to appear, because the activity of judgment is both about how the world fits me and how I wish to fit in it.

Taste is a personal relation to the things in the world. With our least- cognitive sense, we feel our own reaction to things in the world—how it pleases or displeases—and we can never compel anyone to agree. Still we communicate about sense without treating it as subjective or private. This seeming contradiction corresponds to the two steps involved in the mental activity of personal judgments. First, the instant it-pleases-or-displeases- me that is as discriminatory as sensuous taste, and after this, the approval or disapproval of this pleasing or displeasing. In this second approbation, we judge as members of a community what is fit to appear in the world.

In self-presentation, we indicate what, in our opinion, is fit to be seen and how we wish to appear. It can be seen as a promise to the world—to please others according to cultural norms, to please ourselves, or to set an example “to persuade others to be pleased with what pleases us” (LM, p. 36).[1] Hypocrisy is a failure to endure in accordance with the image of pleasure presented to the world. Uncovering it does not discover a masquerade where things authentically appear.

  • [1] As an organizing principle close to the “logic of appropriateness” (March and Olsen 2006) withemphasis on the personal element and freedom.
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