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Paradoxes of Plain Thinking

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A Review of Common Sense: A Political History by Sophia Rosenfeld

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Whatever common sense may be, it includes much else besides practically confirmed truisms. In Common Sense: A Political History, Sophia Rosenfeld describes the backstories of modern common sense, locating its origins in debates among small groups of professors, publishers and pamphleteers in several cities on both sides of the Atlantic during the Age of Revolutions. From the eighteenth century on, champions and enemies of the rising ‘middling’ classes have brandished common sense as an ‘unspectacular instrument’ of non-coercive regulation, to promote or oppose the sovereignty of ‘the people’ by hitching their conflicting claims to an unassailable guarantor of truth. After taking a beating in the first decades of the twentieth century, common sense has been resuscitated and reconstituted, to sell all manner of goods and policies. As a description of the roles that common sense has played in the modern phenomenon of populism, Rosenfeld’s book casts doubt on Hannah Arendt’s claim that common sense is what true democracy creates. At the same time, Common Sense: A Political History corroborates and fills out Antonio Gramsci’s account of good sense and politics.

Affiliations: 1: California State University Northridge


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1. Arendt Hannah The Origins of Totalitarianism 1966 [1951] New York Harcourt
2. Beattie James An Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth in Opposition to Sophistry and Skepticism 1809 [1770] Philadelphia Solomon Wieatt
3. Crehan Kate Gramsci, Culture and Anthropology 2002 London Pluto Press
4. Fitzhugh George Sociology of the South: Or the Failure of Free Society 1854 Richmond, VA. A. Morris
5. Gramsci Antonio Hoare Quintin, Nowell-Smith Geoffrey Selections from the Prison Notebooks 1971 New York International Publishers
6. Green Marcus E., Ives Peter"‘Subalternity and Language: Overcoming the Fragmentation of Common Sense’" Historical Materialism 2009Vol 17 1 3 30 [Crossref]
7. Hume David Hendel Charles W. An Inquiry concerning Human Understanding 1955 [1748] Indianapolis Bobbs-Merrill, Inc.
8. Mackie Erin Market à la Mode: Fashion, Commodity, and Gender in ‘The Tatler’ and ‘The Spectator’ 1997 Baltimore Johns Hopkins University Press
9. Merquior José Guilherme Liberalism: Old and New 1991 Boston Twayne Publishers
10. Miller Richard W. Fact and Method: Explanation, Confirmation and Reality in the Natural and the Social Sciences 1987 Princeton Princeton University Press
11. Paine Thomas Common Sense 2002 [1776] Bedford, MA. Applewood Books
12. Rosenfeld Sophia Common Sense: A Political History 2011 Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press [Crossref]
13. Strawson Peter F. Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics 2006 [1959] London Routledge

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