Is 'common sense' better than a Ph.D? - Part 2

Sun, 22 May 2016 Source: Kwarteng, Francis


“Stiff-necked fools, you think you are cool; to deny me for simplicity….

“Yes, you have gone for so long, with your love for vanity now…

“Yes, you have got the wrong interpretation; mixed up with vain imagination…

“And forever, yes, erase your fantasy…

“The lips of the righteous teach many, but fools die for want of wisdom…

“Yes, you have gone—gone for so long, with your love for vanity now…

“But I don't wanna rule ya!...

“I don't wanna fool ya!...

“I don't wanna school ya: Things you—you might never know about!...


But how “enough” is Prof. Aryeetey’s “enough common sense”? He did not exactly say.

Is “common sense” quantifiable?

We do know that Josh Billings once said “enough common sense is genius.”

And yet, his condescending elitist posturing tended to undermine the workable praxes involving all the familiar examples he gave to illustrate his operational or working theory of “common sense.”

For instance, why does a Ph.D.-holder need “common sense” to deal with politicians—especially Ghanaian politicians, a primitive, rag-tag bunch of lazy liars and lazy, uncreative thieves?

Prof. Aryeetey does appear to attach too much importance to these dangerous, deadly species and strains of political animals.

The fact is that the kind of political animals we breed lack “common sense”!

All these politicians have in their empty thick skulls is Fela Kuti’s “colomentality.”

Notwithstanding all the preceding, we want to ask:

What is “common sense”?

How is “common sense” related to intelligence and wisdom?

How is “common sense” related to “book smarts” and “street smarts”?

Is “common sense” age-specific, time-specific and culture-specific?

Is “common sense” innate (instinct) or learned, or both?

Does the music of Bob Marley have “common sense”? Do the writings of Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka have “common sense?” Did the politics of Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela have “common sense”? Do the inventions of Bill Gates and Thomas Edison and Steve Jobs have “common sense”?

Did Imhotep have a Ph.D.? How about those of our ancestors who created great civilizations such as the ancient Egyptian, Mali, Ghana, and Songhai civilizations…?

How about the creativity of Mark Zuckerberg, of Oprah Winfrey, of Mother Teresa, of Prince (musician)…and yours?

What does the human genome project say about “common sense”? Where does “common sense” fit in the “nature vs. nurture” debate? In other words, is “common sense” learned or acquired (hereditary)?

How is “common sense” different from the power of discernment? Is “common sense” more powerful than an advanced degree(s)? How is “common sense” related to imagination?

What does folk (commonsense) psychology say about “common sense”? Is “common sense” universal? What are the connections—if any—between “common sense” and moral agency?

In the end Prof. Aryeetey could actually be right after all when he said:

“A Ph.D. is always important but common sense is the most important. You need enough to assess what the student is telling you.”

Our view is that Ghana needs to learn to produce more men and women with “common sense” than Ph.D.s.

Perhaps that is the only way we go progress and develop as a people.

And let no one come here and tell us we are jealous of Ph.D.s!

After all we did not say anywhere that Ph.D.’s are useless, just that we need less of those and more of ordinary citizens with a patriotic sense of “common sense.”

But then again one looks closely at Prof. Ernest statements and is compelled to reconsider the other version of Ph.D.— the so-called “Pull Him Down” Syndrome, arguably one of the nation’s major debilitating symptom-complexes threatening the very existence of the nation, solidarity, stability, patriotism, development, growth, entrepreneurial drive and creativity.

One would have wished the good professor had already seen a need to establish a think tank or research institute, “Pull Him Down Is The Enemy of Common Sense,” a department at the University of Ghana, “The Department Of Common Sense,” or a university, “The University Of Common Sense”—any of whose primary research mandates will focus on the connections among “common sense,” productivity, political and economic stability, industrialization and development.

Students should also answer this question: Is “common sense” better than a Ph.D.? We ask because Prof. Aryeetey’s interview did not answer this question! The interview merely danced around it.

And with the good professor himself at the head or helm of affairs of any of these three institutions, we could be churning out scientific/technical papers and textbooks on “common sense” and awarding covetous PhD’s in “common sense”—which we may also call “PhD. Common Sense” or “Doctor of Philosophy in Common Sense”!

Those who fail these academic programs should be banished from the country or institutionalized in psychiatric wards (mental hospitals).

Once we have settled on this we could then start with our politicians first, then our religious folks, the electorate…kids….on and on and on…to unborn babies…and award degrees from diploma up!

Finally, Prof. Aryeetey’s view that “a Ph.D. is always important” is debatable because this is not always necessarily so—or true.

Maybe he should have accompanied this statement with a disarming clarity of categorical qualification.

In fact, every degree can “always be important” depending on the degree-holder’s positive contributions to his/her society and human civilization.

As children some of us held this class of Ph.D.-holders in awe as when we saw them bundled in those awe-inspiring, intimidating colorful academic gowns and mortarboards, just like children characteristically view the class of La Sape (Sapeurs) in certain parts of Africa, only to realize as maturity set in that we were viewing this class of [Ph.D.] human beings the same way a child would view Father Christmas.

A child grows up and soon realizes that the Father Christmas he knew and took to was just as human as his/her father or mother. Ironically the story does not end, however. The father who now knows more also learns to take his/her child to see Father Christmas on Christmas seasons.

But then again, strip individuals of this class of their awe-inspiring, intimidating regalia and there you have it in the abundance of paralyzing clarity, ordinary human beings crawling in their full nakedness, fears, weak humanity, finite consciousness and knowledge, and fallibility.

The central important point here is that maturity and increased knowledge of the world and of human psychological evolution demystified this class for us—largely.

Thus, a Ph.D. merely provides space for the acquisition of specialized knowledge in this ever-expanding world of human intellectual evolution, knowledge, and research capacity.

And of course, it is the only innovative, creative, or imaginative ones among this class who can usefully turn this specialized knowledge around to benefit human beings.

This also implies an existing class of lazy, uncreative, and unimaginative class of men and women with advanced degrees, a class of individuals who may not be as important in human civilization as non-Ph.D.-holders such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah Winfrey, Thomas Edison…(see also Paul Hudson’s “100 Top Entrepreneurs Who Succeeded Without A College Degree”).

As a matter of fact, having a Ph.D. does not necessarily make one an epitome of knowledge, intelligence and wisdom as we thought of as uninformed children.

Put simply, acquiring a Ph.D.—which is “always” good thing—does not necessarily puts one on the tapering pinnacle of human knowledge.

For human knowledge is such a vast “infinite” world that no single human being, however knowledgeable, can totally claim expert ownership of it.

It is the height of boastful exuberance for anyone to think otherwise, for, even, polymathicity has its own encircling rigid limitations. The human mind is only as elastic as man’s certain mortality.

Thus a Ph.D. does not necessarily even make one knowledgeable, smart, wise and intelligent.

After all, the classroom is also not necessarily a complete storehouse of human knowledge, expertise, and experiences.

Even people with multiple degrees turn to learn more from the outside world than what the classroom has to offer.

In the end, though, it is how one can use his/her knowledge to benefit him/herself, his family and society or community and the world at large that truly matters.

Acquiring an advanced degree merely for its own sake, without considering this other side of the realities of life, makes no practical sense. This is not what education should be about.

As a matter of fact, more and more non-Ph.D.-holders and non-degree-holders are getting the world’s attention as a d when their technological, industrial, scientific, social, and entrepreneurial contributions to human civilization are recognized with honorary doctorates and institutions named after them. And as expected some jealous, lazy, hollow, uncreative Ph.D.-holders take umbrage at this!

Yet we still have to insist that it is not always true that “a Ph.D. is always important” without qualification, for, after all, did Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Propaganda Minister (see Reference for Henry A. Lea’s paper “Criminals With Doctorates”), the American mathematical prodigy Ted Kaczynski (“Unabomber”), and several other influential men and women involved in “crimes against humanity” not have Ph.D.’s and use their expertise, research and knowledge acquired through their doctorates?

The final question we intend asking is this:

Is “common sense” really better than a Ph.D.? Maybe those Ph.D.’s without “common sense” can help us answer this question, and sufficiently, not the way Prof. Aryeetey certainly did. On the other hand we may have to submit, that having both “common sense” and advanced degree(s) are necessary or that on a more serious note, “common sense” may actually be more important than a Ph.D., any degree for that matter.

Unfortunately, today’s world may seem to value or put a premium on “paper” education than an abstract construct such as “common sense.” This may be why we have “rotten” minds in places that should have actually been places for men and women with “common sense,” men and women who are familiar with and can effectively deal with the paralyzing challenges and vicissitudes of life. We submit also that these contentions are not absolute and open to debate.

Well said then!

“Common sense,” said Josh Billings (courtesy of George Bernard Shaw also), “is instinct, and enough is genius.”


We are not saying there are no high quality caliber Ph.Ds out there, in Africa. What we are rather saying is that, our professors and lecturers should be doing more in terms of upgrading themselves, their research capacities and their knowledge base.

Some of the notes and textbooks they use for their classes are old, outmoded—behind the times.

Worst of all, many if not most of these textbooks look at ideas mostly from the perspective of societies whose values and worldviews— where these texts originate and many a time these texts deal with topical issues with no direct relevance for Africa—are not always constant with Africa’s.

Of course, the theoretical content of syllabi and curricula generally “meets” international standards but it is the transition from theory to praxis that is where we are found most wanting as a people, as a continent.

It is the absence of this transition which separates Africa from Asia and the West, as well as “school” or “schooling” from “education.”

And we may also posit that it is rather pedagogical and andragogical overemphasis on theoretical indoctrination of students that may be “killing” “common sense” in Ghanaians in particular and Africans in general.

Yet theory is as just as important—if not more important—than the praxis of knowledge.


On the question of professors and lecturers upgrading themselves, their research capacities and their knowledge base, we had a professor who used to give first-year students graduate questions on their examinations, questions he claimed to have been part of his graduate studies. He would then leave the class for one of the windows, while his students were taking the examinations, then smirked spasmodically as realized that students were visibly struggling with the questions.

“You guys have it easy,” he would say, while still smirking spasmodically at his struggling students. “You have no idea what I went through when I was in graduate school…” Sometimes he would also say: “While the white man is going to the moon, the black man is going to his villages.”

Yet this was a professor who used notes he himself had used an undergraduate student.

But then again, testing students on above-average questions as bonus questions is not unusual.

Professors and lecturers do this often just to identify talented or gifted among student populations under professorial or lectorial tutelage.

And at a time when Asian and American school children are past the modern dispensation of Microsoft Word usage, many if not most of our Western-trained [old-school] Ph.D. professors and lecturers struggled to find a way around Microsoft Word. The sad part is that, some of the major lectorial and professorial lapses still trail their students—including this author—wherever they go.

In fact, some of these Ph.D.’s avoid the paralyzing tension and stress of the American classroom and institutional pressure to research and publish in exchange for tenure and departmental respect, by leaving for Ghana where they expect to do less for greater rewards, undeserved respect and public patronage. Some of our loud Ph.D.’s do not even “read” or are not widely read!


“Common sense” is supreme and nonpareil in comparison to other innate and external knowledge forms. In fact in more specific terms and in simple language also, “common sense” is probably—if not certainly—superior to all other learned and acquired knowledge forms—in our opinion—although we put this contention forward as a debatable and speculative interrogation of the obvious.

A Ph.D. on the other hand can easily be acquired by “anybody” based on a number of factors including, but not limited to, one who is willing to go to the extra mile or stretch, has the right frame of mind and resources including a competently knowledgeable team of dissertation advisor(s) and research materials and finances (funding), has efficient and effective time management skills, is in total control of his/her personal/familial problems, and finds him/herself in the right program (Re: knows what he/she is about and wants in terms of life goals) and the right institution.

Acquisition of a Ph.D. is also largely based on a specialized form of knowledge and could be adaptable depending on the creativity of the holder and how that specialized body of knowledge effortlessly weaves itself seamlessly into or across other related knowledge forms.

In the end “common sense” is a master of and superior to the classroom. What is also important is that a Ph.D. comes and goes but “common sense” remains forever—which is that “common sense” is “immortal.”

In fact, it is what has brought the evolution of man to this highest quality level of technological, scientific, and industrial development and intellectual refinement probably not seen anywhere in human existence and history. Our society needs to cultivate it in addition to formal education of whatever level.

We have already pointed out elsewhere that education—whether formal or informal—contributes enormously to the development of, as well as enhances the right or appropriate context for, the judicious application of “common sense.” Prof. Aryeetey is more than right to posit that “a Ph.D. is always important but common sense is the most important.”

Therefore, he could not have stated his case clearer in defense of “common sense”!


Henry A. Lea (University of Massachusetts-Amherst). “Criminals With Doctorates: An SS Officer In The Killing Fields Of Russia.” Lecture Delivered at the University of Vermont. November 18, 2009.

Paul Hudson. “100 Top Entrepreneurs Who Succeeded Without A College Degree.” Elite Daily. May 13, 2013.

Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis