Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Common Sense by Thomas Paine

Worthwhile. Common Sense was a pamphlet written by Paine (but published anonymously at the time) during the American Revolution. It is basically an argument for independence and the rejection of monarchical rule.

Why I enjoyed it is that his tone and language were just so strident and impassioned. It is rare these days to read or hear someone speaking for justice or a cause and actually believe them sincere and reasoned instead of hyperbolic and disingenuous. Although the issue was (and is) very serious, I could not help but laugh at times because of how severe he was (an excellent audiobook reader likely caused this effect).

Wikipedia covers the whole work as well as most of the arguments, so I’ll just say I found it interesting that he committed two logical fallacies in his mostly reasoned discussion: (1) Paine committed the naturalistic fallacy at least twice when he described how the current relationship between Britain and America did not reflect what was seen in nature; and (2) that he committed the appeal to authority fallacy by using the Bible to illustrate how American should be independent and people should not be ruled by a King.
Of course, these are two of the main areas to which people defer, then and now, so if agreement is the goal of a discussion, then one must communicate to an audience in a way that achieves the greatest likelihood of their conversion to your belief. I do wonder if Paine actually thought such fallacious appeals were valid or just used them strategically.

Additionally, the large content on the size of Britain’s navy and the potential size of an American one reminded me of just how important naval dominance was for much of human history (and still plays a significant role now).

Finally, this short work certainly makes one appreciate that they do not live under a monarch (in practice).


Blogger Mark Wilensky said...

I'm a fifth-grade teacher, and an intrical part of teaching civics is providing students with our primary sources: the founding documents. This is critical in understanding what “We the People” really means. Today, as they did over 230 years ago, those documents instill in students the belief that all our voices are important. Everyone of our citizens are given the right to pursue liberty. Futures do not have to be inevitable and "Little voices" can make dramatic impacts on events. That is Thomas Paine's greatest contribution to our country. His pamphlet, Common Sense, spoke to ALL the voices in the 13 colonies during a time of great fear and indecision. He gave a vast number of citizens a vision of what each could do, 176 days before the Declaration of Independence. A belief that power should radiate from the citizens. That message is still paramount to all our students today. For that pamphlet alone, Paine needs to be recognized everywhere as a intrical part of the American miracle.

Mark Wilensky,
author of "The Elementary Common Sense of Thomas Paine: An Interactive Adaptation for All Ages"

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