The Issue With Commonplaces and Knowledge

After watching Julia Galef’s Why you think you’re right–even if you’re wrong I realized that what she was indirectly speaking about was commonplaces. Commplaces, in the rhetoric sense, are are ideas that are shared within a group of people, they are a form of knowledge. This definition bring me to the science of sociology.


In sociology you learn that people demographics inform their beliefs. This means that a commonplace can be formed based on, gender, race, socio-economic status, and even the geographic of an individual. I say all these things to help you understand the possible controversies different commonplaces can lead to. One example of these controversies is discussed in Galef’s Ted talk.

Julia Galef points to the fact that a French commonplace back in the nineteenth century was that Jewish people were not good people and should not be trusted. They believed in this so much so that they let a seemingly innocent man go to prison. The French were able to put this man away and honestly feel justified in doing so. This fact makes me question whether commonplaces lead to motivated reasoning, whether they allow for ethnocentrism.

In some cases commonplaces may be a good thing, but I feel like Galef’s speech made me realize that if they are not challegened they can lead to inaccurate knowledge. Galef’s explanation of the soldier and the scout made me think of a passage by  Ortega Gasset I read in my philosophy class. That passage talked about personal convictions versus social conviction.

The person who has a social conviction believes something because everyone else says it is fact, in this case the French soldiers had social conviction, they believed Alfred Drefus was guilty because of the widespread belief in anti-semitism. However, Colonel Picquart had a personal conviction even though he believed in the commonplace of anti-semtisim he challegened that commonplace in order to find the truth.

This speech showed me that society should not be so quick to believe in commonplaces. While our demographics might shape our beliefs, we still need to challenge them to insure that our knowledge is not bias and is as accurate as possible.

2 thoughts on “The Issue With Commonplaces and Knowledge

  1. Erin Johnson

    This is a good topic to bring up, especially when we are facing a crisis as a nation that can be attributed to “commonplaces.” The commonplace that has become very apparent over the past 2-3 years is race. More specifically, the commonplace I am referring to within race is black and white. The news has been flooded with very similar stories, especially recently, pertaining to a WHITE cops shooting and unarmed BLACK people. This wouldn’t be as prominent as it is at the moment if the same thing wasn’t happening over and over again. But there seems to be a pattern. As the Germans once hated the Jews and the Catholics once hated the Protestants, we are now facing a very similar hate in the form of white cops displaying their hate towards black people. I feel as if the first catalyst of this was when George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin because he felt him to be a “threat”. Zimmerman was not convicted of murder, therefore I believe this set of a spark of anti-black feelings within the white commonplace and it has become a belief of white cops among other white people that all black people are threatening and that they do more harm then good. So they’re [black people] killed before they can ever do any “wrong”, but in every case the black person killed has been found unarmed and showing no signs of being violent or threatening to the lives of anyone including white cops. I feel that this has taken flight over the past couple years and formed a commonplace that is similar to what we have seen throughout time. I hope that within the near future, we can resolve the commonplace of race and live in one commonplace called humanity.

  2. Taylor Lexi Weinstein

    This is a very interesting topic and I find it very interesting. In my Sociology class we talked about commonplaces and common faces. I wanted to dig deeper into the part that you stated about Jewish people. That part caught my eye and I found what you stated to be very interesting so I went about and did some of my own research. This article that I found talked about the Jewish people and the concentration camps and about Anti-Semitism and the routine of commonplace. During the Holocaust I would have to say that the commonplace for the Jewish people was not good. While researching there is still many questions about Jewish people and commonplaces, I still have many questions and although learning about the holocaust my whole life and in hebrew school and all, there is still much that still needs answers and is connected to commonplaces. I agree with the end of your blog that many people are quick to judge and believe in commonplaces and some isn’t as accurate as it should be for Jewish people.
    There is an investing article I found talking about commonplaces for people who are Jewish like me:

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