Public Opinion in Philosophy

Perhaps without being explicitly mentioned, public opinion has frequently been subject of philosophical speculation. What most intrigues the philosophers of all times is the power of public opinion to impose moral standards, shape our moral feelings and change moral values. Plato, for instance, offers us an impressive portrait of the nature, social function and social-psychological mechanisms of public opinion in his Apology.

Marcus Tulio Cicero was one of the first thinkers who ever used the term public opinion (publicam opinionem). And he did it in a sense very similar to our modern conception of the term. Still, the concept was not fixed for centuries in any language. Public opinion was used with a broad variety of synonyms, such as general opinion, general or public will, vulgar opinion, popular opinion, popular voice, etc…

I have paid special attention to the study of public opinion in the work of Michel de Montaigne, Niccholo Machiavelli, Erasmus of Rotterdam, Baltasar Gracián, Alexis de Tocqueville and Friedrich Nietzsche.