“Enlightenment and Common Sense” by Umberto Eco


This is a short essay included in Turning Back the Clock that addresses the question: What is an enlightened thinker? While he lists several traits that are found in the modern enlightened thinker, he asserts that two essential qualities are common sense and skepticism.

While I am in complete agreement regarding Eco’s assertion about common sense, I am somewhat more skeptical when it comes to his claim on skepticism (a pun is intended here). While it is true that healthy skepticism promotes inquiry and testing of claims that are posited as fact, in the information age where a quick Google search can turn up supporting “data” for any claim, regardless of how ridiculous it may be, skepticism has opened the door to the denial of proven information that is crucial to society and humanity. The perfect example is climate change. The theory of biological imperialism asserts that a species will alter its environment to make it more conducive to its survival and comfort. It’s a hard theory to refute. If you accept this premise, then it stands to reason that humans, in modifying their surroundings, have changed the environment. When you consider this fact in conjunction with scientific evidence of changes in the climate and their connection with human activity, then our impact on climate change should be evident and not disputed. In spite of this, there is no shortage of “skeptics” who reject scientific findings and bolster their views with supporting data from “experts” in the field (often hired by corporations). And there is the problem with associating skepticism with enlightened thinking.

While I agree with 99% of what Eco asserts, I feel he is off in this area. There is a real danger in skepticism and I feel that common sense is much more important than skepticism. Hence to quote the old adage: Common sense is not all that common.



Filed under Literature, Non-fiction

7 responses to ““Enlightenment and Common Sense” by Umberto Eco

  1. Instead of “pun” I believe “paradox” is more appropriate.After all, a pun is a play on words (double meaning etc).Anyway I do not agree that one can dispense with the skepticism simply because of the glut of information available.Surely it is the very fact that Google and other sources can provide supporting data for just about any claim (however spurious) that impels one to retain a healthy level of skepticism –leaving one free to evaluate the conflicting “data”.Also, your argument suggests that Eco’s claim about skepticism represents about 1% of his assertions.I do not believe that you can “quantify” in this manner–your argument should rather tell one why Eco attaches undue weight to the requirement of skepticism.My thoughts for what they are worth.I do enjoy your blog.
    David Stephens

    • Hi David!

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I suppose I should have been clearer. I agree that skepticism is important, but that it is one of those things that can work against you too. I also should have clarified that my 99% was inclusive of all of Eco’s writing that I have read and not specific to this essay.

      I appreciate your honest and constructive criticism. It helps me become a better writer and a more critical thinker.

      Have a great day and thanks again for reading my thoughts and sharing yours.



  2. I think of a skeptic as someone with an open mind who looks carefully at what he or she lets into it, and a cynic as someone who dismisses everything that doesn’t support his or her world view. Some people selectively cite the few sources of data that support their views while ignoring the majority that conflict with it. I wouldn’t call those people skeptics.

    • Hi Amber.

      Thanks for your comment. I seem to have missed the mark on this post. 🙂 Oh well. I think you expressed what I was thinking a lot better than I did. I appreciate your clarity.

      Have a great day!!


  3. Whatever the semantic issues with defining “skepticism,” I completely agree that it’s time to wake up to climate change. Thanks, Jeff, as always for your thoughtful remarks.

    • Hi Nancy.

      Thank you for your comment. I’m glad that you got what I was trying to say, even if I didn’t express it quite as clearly as I would have liked. I feel at least somewhat vindicated. And yes, we need to stop denying the obvious and begin taking concrete steps in addressing climate change.

      Thank you for your kind words and I hope you have a blessed holiday!


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