Putnam has described his philosophical life as “a long journey from realism to realism” (Putnam 1999: 49). A parenthetical remark undoes the acute sense of paradoxicality in this formulation: the journey begins with Metaphysical Realism (which he capitalizes for ironic emphasis) and ends with what he variously calls “natural,” “pragmatic,” or “common sense realism.” In this chapter I want to focus on the way the last of these three names for this view gives prominence to common sense; and on Putnam’s appeal to “the common man” in his further claim “that progress in philosophy requires a recovery of the natural realism of the common man” (ibid.: 24). One important aim is to try to understand the nature and significance of Putnam’s appeal to common sense. The appeal to common sense occurs as part of a complex diagnosis of the

incoherence of traditional formulations of Metaphysical Realism – “the metaphysical fantasy that there is a totality of Forms, or Universals, or ‘properties,’ fixed once and for all” (ibid.: 6) – one that sees the problem arising from a conception of our cognitive powers as being limited to an inner realm of the mind impinged on at a boundary (or “interface”) by causal impacts from the outside world. What Putnam wants to make clear, in particular, is that this picture of cognition does not do justice to our common sense way of thinking about perception. It is in order to suggest what is wrong with Metaphysical Realism – what it excludes from view or overlooks – that Putnam elaborates the view he calls common sense realism, one he takes Wittgenstein, amongst others, to endorse. Roughly, I claim that we can find three conceptions of common sense in

Putnam’s The Threefold Cord (1999): (1) common sense as a matter of

common beliefs (which I call the positive conception); (2) common sense as a quietist rejection of representationalist metaphysics and epistemology (which I call the negative conception); and (3) common sense as a capacity for good judgment (which I call the Kantian conception). The essay aims to show three things: first, that there is a tension between the appeal to ordinary folk and both of Putnam’s positive and negative conceptions of common sense; second, that Putnam’s characterization of the positive conception as a version of direct realism in the philosophy of perception should be abandoned, especially given his claim that the interface conception (i.e. indirect realism) is senseless; and, third, that Putnam’s general outlook suggests that a better candidate for common sense is the Kantian conception of it. This conception is arguably presupposed by the negative conception and leaves Putnam’s criticism of Metaphysical Realism unchanged, except that it would no longer take the form of a positive endorsement of something called “direct realism.” Please note that in the quotations I have taken from Putnam I have, for

the sake of emphasis and consistency, used the title “common sense realism” to refer to Putnam’s position throughout, even where another title was originally used.