Andrew W. Mellon Penn Faculty Fellow in the Humanities
2003—2004 Forum on Belief
Assistant Professor, Political Science
On Socratic Politics: Belief, Persuasion, and Political Judgment
Arguing that politics are essentially defined by belief (in contrast to religion, whose epistemic posture is more properly described as one of knowing), Norris seeks to refine Hannah Arendt's like-minded vision of the political sphere. In the early 20th century, Arendt made the claim that the polis was and should be a public space that makes possible a distinctively human mode of action: public speech in a condition of plurality where the judgments of others constitute one's deed every bit as much as one's own intention. Arendt girded her understanding of politics with a defense of perspectival and relative judgment as doxa, "opinion" in its classical acceptation as the narrative rendering of dokei moi, "what appears to me;" that is, comprehension of the world as it opens itself up to the viewer.
In Norris's view, Arendt failed to thematize her own model of politics as being overwhelmingly informed by philosophical currents—principally Heidegger's phenomenology—and was therefore unable to bridge the hierarchical Platonic division between the disciplines that relegates politics to a position of subordinate "irrationality" with respect to philosophy. Norris proposes a revision of Arendt's ideas that will overcome this shortcoming, making political dialogue capable of more than the revelation of how its interlocutors see things, thereby allowing it to account for the way we prize our political beliefs, comparatively valorizing some perspectives as richer, fuller, or more reasonable than others.