Common sense also condemns what is “too general.” In life it is said to be a “situation” and not a theory that confronts us. The man who is trusted is the man of experience, and experience is ordinarily taken to mean acquaintance with some group of individual facts. In political life what one needs is not general ideas, but familiarity with concrete circumstances; one must know men and measures, not man and principles. Historians are suspicious of vague ideas of civilization and progress; the important thing is to know just what happened. In the industrial world, what is needed is not a theory of economic value, but a knowledge of present costs, wages, and prices. As a preparation for life it is more important to train the eye and the hand, which can distinguish and manipulate, than the reason and imagination, which through their love of breadth and sweep are likely to blur details, or in their groping after the ultimate are led to neglect the immediate thing which really counts. Common sense would not, of course, condemn generalization altogether. It has too much respect for knowledge, and understands that there is no knowing without generalizing. There must be rules and classifications, even laws and theories. But the generalizing propensity of mind must be held in restraint; after a certain point it becomes absurd, fantastic, out of touch with fact, “up in the clouds.” The man of common sense, planted firmly on the solid ground, views such speculations with contempt, amusement, or with blank amazement.

Philosophy offends against common sense, then, not because it generalizes, for, after all, no one can think at all without generalizing; but because it does not know when to stop. And the philosopher is bound to offend, because if he is true to his calling, he must not stop. It is his particular business to generalize as far as he can. He may have various motives for doing this. He may be prompted by mere “idle curiosity” to see how far he can go. Or he may believe that the search for the universal and the contemplation of it constitute the most exalted human activity. Or he may be prompted by the notion that his soul’s salvation depends on his getting into right relations with the first cause or the ultimate ground of things. In any case he is allotted the task of formulating the most general ideas that the nature of things will permit. He can submit to no limitations imposed by considerations of expediency. He loses his identity altogether, unless he can think more roundly, more comprehensively, or more deeply, than other men. He represents no limited constituency of facts or interests; he is the thinker at large.

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