OPINION

 

illustrations-political-space-23

In political space we exchange opinions.

Participants exchange their opinions. A debate is, above all, an exchange of different opinions held by different people. Often people say what they think and then add that “This is just my opinion.” Others say what they think with utter conviction and then have to be made aware by their peers that “This is just your opinion.” In both cases the emphasis lies on the fact that an opinion is never absolute. It is not simply true or false, right or wrong.

Arendt, referring back once more to the commonplace assumptions of Greek antiquity, characterises opinions as the articulation of personal understandings or perceptions of the world. To have an opinion means to express with words how one sees the world or, more often, a particular aspect of the world. This implies the awareness that my opinion is not the only possible opinion, simply because I am not the only one to whom the world appears in all its complexity, and my position is not the only position from which it is possible to observe the world. This of course does not mean that all opinions are “subjective fantasy and arbitrariness” (PP: 14) since it is the same world that appears to all of us and since we are all human.

“To Socrates, as to his fellow citizens, doxa was the formulation in speech of what dokei moi, that is, ‘of what appears to me.’ This doxa had as its topic […] comprehension of the world ‘as it opens itself to me.’ It was not, therefore, subjective fantasy and arbitrariness, but was also not something absolute and valid for all. The assumption was that the world opens up differently to every man according to his position in it; and that the ‘sameness’ of the world, its commonness […] or ‘objectivity’ […], resides in the fact that the same world opens up to everyone and that despite all differences between men and their positions in the world – and consequently their doxai (opinions) – ‘both you and I are human.’” (PP: 14)

The crux is that nobody can form an opinion alone or only in the company of others who have the same perspective onto the world. “[N]o formation of opinion is ever possible where all opinions have become the same” (OR: 225) says Arendt. Just like everything that appears can be defined only in contradistinction to other appearances, opinions become distinct only when formed and perceived in contradistinction to other opinions. Fewer opinions indicate not only greater dominance and less diversity but also less precision and articulateness.

“[N]o formation of opinion is ever possible where all opinions have become the same. Since no one is capable of forming his own opinion without the benefit of a multitude of opinions held by others, the rule of public opinion endangers even the opinion of those few who may have the strength not to share it.” (OR: 225)

In turn, “every topic has as many sides and can appear in as many perspectives as there are people to discuss it.” (PP: 167) Consequently, the goal of a debate is never to find the right or at least the most adequate opinion. The exchange of opinions “doesn’t need a conclusion in order to be meaningful” (PP: 16). Rather, debates should help us to fully understand a topic – and, ultimately, the world – by shedding light on it from as many different angles as possible. It is also worth mentioning that the exchange of opinions is an important way of sharing the world which we all inhabit; of turning a world in which we exist one next to the other, into a common world. Finally, without opinions we will merely be moody. Arendt underlines that “where no opportunity for the forming of opinions exists, there may be moods – moods of the masses and moods of the individuals, the latter no less fickle and unreliable than the former – but no opinion.” (OR: 268f)

Political action oftentimes involves an exchange of opinions. This exchange does not happen after but coincides with the process of forming opinions; hence nobody can form an opinion without the presence of others. Political space provides opportunities to form and to exchange opinions. This means to share the world instead of just existing in it at the same time.

 

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