Doxa (Ancient Greek: δόξα; from verb δοκεῖν, dokein, 'to appear, to seem, to think, to accept') is a common belief or popular opinion. In classical rhetoric, doxa is contrasted with episteme ('knowledge').
Between the 3rd and 1st centuries BC, the term picked up a new meaning from that of the Greek, when the Biblical-Hebrew word for 'glory' (כבוד, kavod) was translated by the Septuagint as doxa. Not only was this translation of the Hebrew Scriptures used by the early church, the effects of this new meaning of doxa as 'glory' is made evident by the ubiquitous use of the term 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 orthodoxy and heterodoxy. This semantic merging in the word doxa is also seen in Russian word slava (слава), which means 'glory', but is used with the meaning of belief or opinion in words like pravoslavie (православие), meaning 'orthodoxy' (or, literally, 'true belief').
In his dialogue Gorgias, Plato presents the sophists as wordsmiths who ensnared and used 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 as pure negative, which can take various forms, among them the form of illusion.
Aristotle and Pyrrho
Aristotle, Plato's student, 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, whereby those who held it had a great number 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 term endoxa is used in Aristotle's Organon, Topics and Rhetoric.
In Pyrrhonism, doxa and dogma that pertain to non-evident matters form the target of Pyrrhonist practice. In regard to such matters, practitioners 'suspend judgment' (epoché) to induce 'unperturbed-ness' (ataraxia).
In sociology and anthropology (Bourdieu)
Pierre Bourdieu, in his Outline of a Theory of Practice (1972), used the term doxa to denote a society's taken-for-granted, unquestioned truths. In comparison, opinion is the sphere of that which may be openly contested and discussed. The doxa, in Bourdieu's view, is the experience by which "the natural and social world appears as self-evident.":164 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.":167, 169
Bourdieu's Distinction (1979) provides the humanist instances of his application of the term, where doxa sets out limits on social mobility within the social space that are 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). Accordingly, individuals become voluntary subjects of those incorporated mental structures that deprive them of more deliberate consumption.
Bourdieu also explains the term doxa in his interview with theorist Terry Eagleton, where he uses an example about 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. Doxa is evident in this response, because this was the common belief and attitude that the students had based on what society pushed them to believe.
Bourdieu believes that doxa derives from socialization, as socialization also deals with beliefs that derive from society; as we grow up in the environment, we tend to believe what society tells us is correct. Adding on to his previous 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. In the case of common beliefs in school, 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: it also has the potential to give rise to common action.
In political theory
While doxa is used as a tool for the formation of arguments, 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 his argument in Outline of a Theory of Practice, 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.":164 Adam T. Smith of the University of Chicago observes: "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.
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