Friday, November 30, 2012

Sensibility and sensibilism

kw: philosophy, sensibility

We are variously blessed and plagued by the richness of vocabulary. Yet there are notable gaps. I have been seeking a word to encapsulate the way I tend to think of things; not exactly a philosophy, I suppose, but that is itself of a higher level. I used to call myself a Pragmatist, but pragmatism in practice is rather harsh. I liken this to the way I once answered the question, by a supervisor, "Do you think I am fair?" I said, "Fairness can come across as harshness, as equally harsh to all. We like some mercy with our justice." He liked that. Then after more thought I said, "People don't only want to be treated fairly, they want to be treated well." Fortunately, he liked that also.

I have found these days that I often answer questions about dilemmas by asking, "What would make sense?" or "What would be the sensible thing to do?" It occurred to me to find out if Sensibilism is a recognized philosophy, and if so, what it is. I soon came across Sensibilism as defined by B. Russell (later rejected by him), but—what a disappointment!—saw that it is entirely related to the perceptions of our senses (and how we think about such perceptions). It traces back to the conundrum, "If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound?" Now you have to define "sound" and decide whether sensing the vibrations in the air is required. This kind of recursive reasoning is why philosophy was taken over by "linguistic analysis" a couple of generations ago, and is still largely fixated on meanings of words rather than the pursuit and classification of ideas.

The primary antonyms of "sensible" are "senseless", "unrealistic", and "unreasonable". Even as I think about this, I realize that what is sensible or reasonable to me is going to seem senseless or unreasonable to someone else…and vice versa. "One man's meat is another man's poison." Thus even a redefined Sensibilism, based on reasonableness rather than sense-perception, is unlikely to avoid a death spiral into linguistic analysis and similar conceits.

Nonetheless, I do like the notion of basing my decisions on, "What would make sense?" Without making an implied promise, I expect to consider these things, so don't be surprised if I post some ideas on a "What would be sensible?" theme in the future.

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