22 | 30, pp. 19-36 | doxa.comunicación

January-June of 2020

Doxa and Paradoxa: the concept of public opinion in Ortega and the role of the philosopher

ISSN: 1696-019X / e-ISSN: 2386-3978

I shall not specify to which group the prophets belong. Suffice it to say that in the sphere of human fauna, they represent the species most opposed to that of the politician. It should always be the latter who governs, and not the prophet; however, for the sake of humanity’s future, the politician must always listen to what the prophet shouts or insinuates. All of the great periods in history were born out of the subtle collaboration between these two types of men, and perhaps one of the deep-lying causes of the current malaise is that, for the last two generations, politicians have declared themselves independent and cancelled this collaboration (Ortega, 2004-2010, ch. IV: 510).

We have already encountered this idea in De Europae dissidiis et Republica, in which the Valencian philosopher and humanist Juan Luis Vives maintains that the philosopher should become an advisor to the king, if he wishes to survive in human society. Vives became extremely important to Ortega during the latter’s exile. In that difficult period of silence and of feeling perpetually foreign (if, indeed, he did not already feel that way owing to his status as a philosopher), he began to identify with his Valencian counterpart.

The politician needs this anticipation of history, this capacity to prophesy, that the philosopher offers, as the latter is able to anticipate and prepare for what is coming. However, if the politician does not pay heed to these prophesies, the philosopher ends up preaching in the desert.

To speak of public opinion is to speak of the doxa, and the man who goes against public opinion, the man who generates the paradoxa, is the philosopher; or, in the words of Ortega himself, the intellectual. The title of this article incorporates a pair of opposites, which exist in perpetual opposition to one another. As a counterpoint to public opinion, we have a personal opinion. More than a mere opinion, it is the “true opinion”, an opinion filled with wisdom, because it has been considered at length and because it demonstrates the true nature of things.

If, as Ortega maintains, coexistence within every society depends on the existence of public opinion, there must be a force outside this opinion that introduces unease into people’s everyday lives; an intelligent opinion upheld by the intellectual or the philosopher. We should remember that the word “intelligent” is a derivative of “elegance”. The elegant man is the eligens, he who knows how to choose his actions well. In this respect, ethics and elegance are synonymous. However, this article goes beyond a simple consideration of public opinion. Our task would be incomplete if we did not also explore the role of the philosopher in the construction of the prevailing public opinion.

2. Doxa: the imperative of returning to Plato

Throughout the history of philosophy, many philosophers and intellectuals have reflected on the subject of opinion. This begins with Plato, with his classical distinction between doxa and episteme, all the way through to Walter Lippmann and Jürgen Habermas, who developed and furthered the concept of public opinion in their respective books Public Opinion, published in 1922, and The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, published in 1962.

Thus, it is imperative that we go back to the source of the concept of doxa, i.e. analyse its etymology. Words have an etymology not because they are words, but because they are an example of usage. For Ortega, man is an etymological animal. We must continually return to Plato if we wish to engage in philosophy, and Ortega was certainly aware of this. Plato was a great creator of language, and gave meaning to words that were already in use. Indeed, many of his dialogues