Conventional Wisdom

Conventional wisdom may be true, but isn’t necessarily true.

Conventional wisdom is a set of of ideas and opinions assumed by the general public to be universally accepted and undisputed truths. Some such ideas are bestowed by parents during childhood, and many are later imparted by educational instituions (in particular moral ideas). In addition, the general public is subjected to a continuous flow of  opinions and postulations emanating from idealists and leading ideologists.

The term Conventional wisdom is credited to the economist John Kenneth Galbraith, who used it in his 1958 book “The Affluent Society” – however, the term is much older, dating back at least to 1838 as a synonym for ‘commonplace knowledge’, often pejorative.

Galbraith sharpened its meaning to those commonplace beliefs that are acceptable and comfortable to society, enhancing their ability to resist facts that might diminish them. He repeatedly invoked it to explain the high degree of resistance in academic economic circles to new ideas.

As pointed out by Norwegian author Henrik Ibsen in the late 1800s: «that an opinion is held by a majority, dies not make i right».  Some opinions and assumptions become very deep-seated, and at times act as obstacles to the acceptance of new information, new theories and new explanations, cementing existing conventional wisdom.

For example, Conventional wisdom in 1950, even among doctors, was that smoking was not harmful to one’s health. During the following decades Conventional wisdom changed, so that today (2015) it is held that smoking is harmful.

The concept of conventional wisdom also applies in the political sense. It is used pejoratively to refer to the idea that statements which are repeated over and over become conventional wisdom regardless of whether or not they are true.

Conventional wisdom resists change: those strongly holding an outdated (conventional) view oppose the introduction of contrary belief. This is due to Conventional wisdom being made of ideas that are convenient, appealing and deeply assumed by the public, which hangs on to them.

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