We Live In Public Essay

We Live In Public Essay-53
Though with hindsight we may feel confident in identifying its shifts and its impact at particular moments in the century, for those living at the time it was an ill-defined thing, hovering at the edge of political relevance.

Though with hindsight we may feel confident in identifying its shifts and its impact at particular moments in the century, for those living at the time it was an ill-defined thing, hovering at the edge of political relevance.Periodical essays and satirical cartoons could be taken as expressions of public opinion, of course. But it was generally simpler and safer to interpret events with reference to warring factions or individual interests.It reflects both the uncertainty of its era concerning the practical implications of public opinion and a nagging sense that we should be able to account for what the public feels, tracing the logic behind who is revered and who is forgotten.

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For the time, this seems an impressively sophisticated and enlightened view to adopt; not to claim that the public is always right, but to acknowledge that its opinions are at least derived, logically and inevitably, from its sense of its own interests rather than from thoughtless partiality.

Towards the end of the essay, the author considers why the public generally esteems architects more highly than builders and the ‘Art of Agriculture’ more highly than the ploughman who puts it in practice.

Thus much of public & private judgement in general; let us now examine it with regard to particular Virtues or accomplishments. Of Probity Probity with regard to a particular society consists in nothing more than in actions useful to that society in all its judgements such a society is determined solely by its own intereststhe public in the same interested manner never bestows the names of honest, great heroick, proportionally to the force of mind courage or generosity with which the Action was attended; but to the importance of the action, & the advantage the society receiv’d from it; let one man fight against three ’tis an action thousands of our soldiers are capable of performing & would never be thought worth recording in History; but let the fate of an Empire depend on the combat, the Victor becomes like Horace immortal; Sapho & Cartius both leap’d into a Gulph, the first from disapointed love, the latter to save Rome, Philosphers may brand these actions with the common name of folly, but the public judging in another manner & whilst Sapho is a fool Cartius is a Hero.

As with probity so it fares withsense & understanding, the public will ever estimate according to its interest.

It may be stating the obvious to point out that what was understood as constituting ‘public opinion’ in the eighteenth century bears little resemblance to the culture of opinion polls and click rates that often accompanies the term in today’s usage.

It rarely offered the prospect of absolute excoriation or vindication that it does for us.

However, the intention of the work in its entirety is not to rubbish the force of public opinion because of these lapses.

On the contrary, it is to argue for the sound, self-interested basis of the public’s judgements, to insist on its fundamental rationality and to assert the proper value of public opinion when it is effectively balanced against other considerations.

This is a fairly convenient distinction but not necessarily a false one.

It is startling how closely the language at this point in the essay anticipates current debates about the value of expertise in public life and the ease with which highly specialised knowledge can best be communicated to the public as a whole.

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