The Perils of Philosophy

David DesRosiers has written a delightful review of my new book, Reclaiming Common Sense. His review appears in the spring issue of the Claremont Review of Books. He praised the book, and wrote that it could have been of great use to him as a graduate student when he tried to rebut utopian thinkers like Plato. DesRosiers writes:

The Republic—with its rule by the wise and its shocking communism of women and children—revealed to me the danger that reason without common sense poses to the political community.

He makes a great point. And it is difficult to overstate Plato’s influence on philosophy in the West. As Alfred North Whitehead famously wrote, the European philosophical tradition largely “consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”

Plato’s abandonment of common sense in The Republic and elsewhere in his writings continues to exercise an enormous influence today, an influence profoundly opposed to the common-sense thinking of the American Founders.

The Founders claimed they were guided by self-evident truths. To understand the Founders’ thinking, it is important to know that their reliance on self-evident truths shows their reliance on a Scottish philosopher named Thomas Reid.

Reid called his philosophy “common sense realism.” Reid challenged the whole tradition that descended from Plato. His purpose was to put Western philosophy on the firm ground of common sense. In my judgment, he succeeded. The American Founders thought so too. As a result, the Founders’ republic is a far cry from Plato’s Republic.

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