Doxa (ancient Greek δόξα; from verb δοκεῖν dokein, "to appear", "to seem", "to think" and "to accept"[1]) is a Greek word meaning common belief or popular opinion. In classical rhetoric, doxa is contrasted with episteme (knowledge).

The word doxa picked up a new meaning between the 3rd and 1st centuries BC when the Septuagint translated the Hebrew word for "glory" (כבוד, kavod) as doxa. This translation of the Hebrew Scriptures was used by the early church and is quoted frequently by the New Testament authors. The effects of this new meaning of doxa as "glory" is made evident by the ubiquitous use of the word throughout the New Testament and in the worship services of the Greek Orthodox Church, where the glorification of God in true worship is also seen as true belief. In that context, doxa reflects behavior or practice in worship, and the belief of the whole church rather than personal opinion. It is the unification of these multiple meanings of doxa that is reflected in the modern terms of orthodoxy[2] and heterodoxy.[3][4] This semantic merging in the word doxa is also seen in Russian word слава (slava), which means glory, but is used with the meaning of belief, opinion in words like православие (pravoslavie, meaning orthodoxy, or, literally, true belief).

In Philosophy

In Plato's Gorgias (dialogue), Plato presents the sophists as wordsmiths who ensnared and used the malleable doxa of the multitude to their advantage without shame.[5] In this and other writings, Plato relegated doxa as being a belief, unrelated to reason, that resided in the unreasoning, lower-parts of the soul.[6] This viewpoint extended into the concept of doxasta in Plato's Theory of Forms, which states that physical objects are manifestations of doxa and are thus not in their true form.[7] Plato's framing of doxa as the opponent of knowledge led to the classical opposition of error to truth, which has since become a major concern in Western philosophy. (However, in the Theaetetus and in the Meno, Plato has Socrates suggest that knowledge is orthos doxa for which one can provide a logos, thus initiating the traditional definition of knowledge as "justified true belief".) Thus, error is considered in as pure negative, which can take various forms, among them the form of illusion.

Plato's student Aristotle objected to Plato's theory of doxa. Aristotle perceived that doxa's value was in practicality and common usage, in contrast with Plato's philosophical purity relegating doxa to deception. Further, Aristotle held doxa as the first step in finding knowledge (episteme), as doxa had found applications in the physical world and those who held it had a great number of tests done to prove it and thus reason to believe it.[8] Aristotle clarifies this by categorizing the accepted truths of the physical world that are passed down from generation to generation as endoxa.[9] Endoxa is a more stable belief than doxa, because it has been "tested" in argumentative struggles in the Polis by prior interlocutors. The term endoxa is used in Aristotle's Organon, Topics and Rhetoric.

In Pyrrhonism doxa and dogma regarding non-evident matters form the target of Pyrrhonist practice. About such matters practitioners suspend judgment (epoche) to induce ataraxia (unperturbedness).

Use in sociology and anthropology

Pierre Bourdieu, in his Outline of a Theory of Practice,[10] used the term doxa to denote what is taken for granted in any particular society. The doxa, in his view, is the experience by which "the natural and social world appears as self-evident".[11] It encompasses what falls within the limits of the thinkable and the sayable ("the universe of possible discourse"), that which "goes without saying because it comes without saying".[12] The humanist instances of Bourdieu's application of notion of doxa are to be traced in Distinction where doxa sets limits on social mobility within the social space through limits imposed on the characteristic consumption of each social individual: certain cultural artifacts are recognized by doxa as being inappropriate to actual social position, hence doxa helps to petrify social limits, the "sense of one's place", and one's sense of belonging, which is closely connected with the idea that "this is not for us" (ce n'est pas pour nous). Thus individuals become voluntary subjects of those incorporated mental structures that deprive them of more deliberate consumption.[13]

Doxa and opinion denote, respectively, a society's taken-for-granted, unquestioned truths, and the sphere of that which may be openly contested and discussed.[14]

Bourdieu explains the term "doxa" in his interview with theorist Terry Eagleton[15]. To explain the term, he uses an example about the common beliefs in school. He asked students what qualifies as achievement in school. In response, the students on the lower end of the academic spectrum viewed themselves as being inferior or not as smart as the students who excelled. The responses are where doxa comes into play, because that was the common belief and attitude that the students had based on what society pushed them to believe. Bourdieu believes that doxa derived from socialization, because socialization also deals with beliefs deriving from society, and as we grow up in the environment, we tend to believe what society tells us is correct.

For example, Bourdieu contends that it is a socially accepted misconception that if you do not score as high as someone else then you are obviously not as smart as they are. Scores do not prove that one is smarter, because there are many different factors that play into what you score on a test. People may excel within a certain topic and fail at another. However, even though it is a misconception, people tend to partake in common practices to make themselves feel better. For example, the students who feel inferior due to popular belief that they are not as smart as the students who score higher than they, may experiment with drugs to ease the insecurities they face. Bourdieu believes that doxa is more than common belief. He believes that it also has the potential to give rise to common action.[16][17]

Role in democracy

While doxa is used as a tool for the formation of argument, it is also formed by argument. The former can be understood as told by James A. Herrick in The History and Theory of Rhetoric: An Introduction: "The Sophists in Gorgias hold that rhetoric creates truth that is useful for the moment out of doxa, or the opinions of the people, through the process of argument and counterargument. Socrates will have no part of this sort of 'truth' which, nevertheless, is essential to a democracy."[18] Importantly noted, democracy, which by definition is the manifestation of public opinion, is dependent upon, and therefore also constrained by, the same limits imposed upon the individuals responsible for its establishment. Due to compromised opinions within a society, as well as opinions not counted for due to inaccessibility and apathy, doxa is not homogeneous, nor is it created agreeably. Rather, it is pliable and imperfect—the outcome of an ongoing power struggle between clashing "truths".

To expand upon the quote from his Outline of a Theory of Practice in the above section, "Use in sociology and anthropology", Bourdieu writes, "When there is a quasi-perfect correspondence between the objective order and the subjective principles of organization (as in ancient societies) the natural and social world appears as self-evident. This experience we shall call doxa".[19] Adam Smith of the University of Chicago observes in his article "The limitations of doxa: agency and subjectivity from an archaeological point of view": "Bourdieu consigns the practices of the denizens of ancient societies to the realm of doxa, their lives cast as routines predicated upon the mis-recognition of social orders as natural ways of life, rather than political products."[20] This calls to attention that the notion of social order as naturally occurring is misperceived, disregarding its creation by political argumentation.

Doxa, then, can be understood as created by argument as well as used in the formation of argument, essential for the establishment of democratic policies.

See also


  1. δοκέω in Liddell and Scott
  2. Harper, Douglas (November 2001). ""Orthodox" Etymology". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2008-07-01.
  3. Harper, Douglas (November 2001). ""Heterodox" Etymology". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2008-07-01.
  4. Ware, Bishop Kallistos (Timothy) (29 Apr 1993). The Orthodox Church (new ed.). New York, NY, USA: Penguin Books. pp. 8, 266. ISBN 978-0-14-014656-1.
  5. Plato (380 B.C.E.). "'Gorgias" [Benjamin Jowett]. Internet Classics Archive. Retrieved 2013-02-11. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  6. Sorabji, Richard (March 26, 1992). Nussbaum, Martha C. (ed.). Essays on Aristotle's De Anima. Oxford University Press.
  7. Szaif, Jan (2007). "Doxa and Episteme as Modes of Acquaintance in Republic V". Les Etudes Platoniciennes. Les Belles Lettres. IV: 253–272. Archived from the original on 6 March 2014. Retrieved 2 March 2014.
  8. "Doxa". Credo Reference. Sage UK. 2005. Retrieved March 2, 2014.
  9. Eggs, Ekkehard; McElholm, Dermot (2002). "Doxa in Poetry: A Study of Aristotle's Poetics" (PDF). Poetics Today. Duke University Press. 23: 395–426. doi:10.1215/03335372-23-3-395. Retrieved March 1, 2014.
  10. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1977 [1972]. Outline of a Theory of Practice. R. Nice, transl. Volume 16. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  11. Bourdieu (1972); p.164
  12. Bourdieu (1972); pp. 167, 169
  13. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1979. La Distinction. Critique Sociale du Jugement. Paris: Les éditions de minuit. Page 549
  14. Pierre Bourdieu - AnthroBase - Dictionary of Anthropology: A searchable database of anthropological texts
  15. Bourdieu, P. and Eagleton, T. "Doxa and common life". New Left Review, 1992, p. 199, 111-121.
  16. Bourdieu, P. and Eagleton, T. "Doxa and common life". New Left Review, 1992, p. 199, 111-121.
  17. Vernon, Phillip E. "Intelligence and Cultural Environment". London: Methuen, 1969, p 215. Print.
  18. Herrick, James, A. (2005). The History and Theory of Rhetoric: An Introduction, 3rd ed. Allyn and Bacon.
  19. Bourdieu, Pierre (1977). Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge University Press. p. 164.
  20. Smith, Adam T. (2001). "The Limitations of Doxa: Agency and subjectivity from an archaeological point of view". Journal of Social Archaeology. 1 (2): 156. doi:10.1177/146960530100100201.
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