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Doxa (from ancient Greek δόξα from δοκεῖν dokein, "to expect", "to seem") is a Greek word meaning common belief or popular opinion, from which are derived the modern terms of orthodoxy and heterodoxy. Used by the Greek rhetoricians as a tool for the formation of argument by using common opinions, the doxa was often manipulated by sophists to persuade the people, leading to Plato's condemnation of Athenian democracy.
The word doxa picked up a new meaning between the 3rd and 1st centuries BC when the "Seventy" (evdomikonta) Hebrew scholars in Alexandria translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. In this translation of the Scriptures, called the Septuagint, the scholars rendered 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 which reflects behavior or practice more so than personal opinion. This semantic shift 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).
Doxa, a philosopheme
In Plato’s Gorgias (dialogue), Plato presents the Sophists, rhetors who taught people how to speak for the promise of commercial success, as wordsmiths that ensnare and use the malleable doxa of the “multitude” to their advantage without shame. 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. 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. 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 Occident as pure negativity, which can take various forms, among them the form of illusion. As such, doxa may ironically be defined as the "philosopher's sin". In classical rhetoric, it is contrasted with episteme.
Plato’s student Aristotle objected to Plato’s assumption 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, as doxa had found applications in the physical world and those who held it had great amount of tests done to prove it and thus reason to believe it. Aristotle clarifies this by categorizing the accepted truths of the physical world that are passed down from generation to generation as endoxa. Endoxa is a more stable belief than doxa, because it has been "tested" in argumentative struggles in the Polis by prior interlocutors. The use of endoxa in the Stagirite's Organon can be found in Aristotle's Topics and Rhetoric.
Use in sociology and anthropology
Pierre Bourdieu, in his Outline of a Theory of Practice, 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”. 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”. 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.
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.
Role of Doxa in Democracy
While doxa is used as a tool for the formation of argument, it should be noted that 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." 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”, Pierre 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”. 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.” 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.
- δοκέω in Liddell and Scott
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- Pierre Bourdieu - AnthroBase - Dictionary of Anthropology: A searchable database of anthropological texts
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- Bourdieu, Pierre (1977). Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge University Press. p. 164.
- Smith, Adam T. (2001). "The Limitations of Doxa: Agency and subjectivity from an archaeological point of view". Journal of Social Archaeology 1 (2): 156.