The Falsity of Doxa

The explication of doxa’s double character as both true and false, causes Theaetetus to adjust his second answer to Socrates’ question: “what is knowledge?”

“To say that knowledge is only view [doxa] is impossible, for a view can often be false. Only true view could be knowledge. Let that be my answer.” (184)

Here Theaetetus tries to steer the discussion away from the concept of false or distorted knowledge, towards knowledge as truth; because false knowledge, as given in the false view, appears to him be an impossible contradiction of terms. Yet experience tells us that it is an everyday occurrence. Heidegger gives an example, we see someone approaching and we think it is someone we know, but we are mistaken, it is not that person. Thus, in our initial sighting, we have a false view.

Socrates, rather than passing over the false view, expresses puzzlement; it appears to be part of everyday experience yet the guiding principle of knowledge, that we either know something or we do not know it, tells us the false view is impossible. This leads him to engage in an extended analysis of the pseudes doxa, in terms of this principle of knowledge looked at from three different perspectives.

Each of these perspectives demonstrate the impossibility of us having a false view, which will lead us in turn to decide which is true, the principles we apply to experience or the experience itself.

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What is Doxa?

Doxa is usually translated as “opinion,” but this only goes half-way to capturing the meaning of the word for the Greeks. As such it does not allow us to understand why Theatetus, after the refutation of his first answer, now appeals to doxa, in the same way he had first appealed to aisthesis, as that which immediately and unreflectively appears to constitute the essence of knowledge.

Heidegger points out that doxa has a double meaning, which reflects the previously seen dual determinations of knowledge as the “self-showing of the beings themselves” and the soul’s relationship to being. Doxa is both the look, the idea that something offers, and the image or picture that one makes of what shows itself. A thing’s doxa is what it appears as, what it shows itself as; towards which we take-up a stance, we are of the view, we have an opinion, this is our doxa. Both aspects are present in one word.

To illustrate how we experience doxa, Heidegger, in Introduction to Metaphysics (YUP, 2000), calls on the idea of a city and the variety of views it offers us; which we take up and use in the construction of our views, our opinions of it:

A city offers a grand vista. The view that a being has in itself, and so can offer from itself, lets itself then be apprehended at this or that time, from this or that viewpoint. The vista that offers itself alters with each new viewpoint. Thus this view is also one that we take and make for ourselves. In experiencing and busying ourselves with beings, we constantly construct views for ourselves from their look…We construct an opinion for ourselves about it. (109)

This construction of an opinion by ourselves often happens without our looking closely at that which shows itself. “Thus it can happen that the view we adopt has no support in the thing itself.” (ibid) Therefore “with doxa we are immediately in a region that is indifferent in respect of truth and falsity.” (ET, 184) This means the duality of doxa, as appearance and opinion, is further doubled. Socrates says “doxa has two faces” by this he means that doxa as appearance can present what the being itself is, but can also make it out to be what it is not, likewise doxa as our view, our opinion of what is seen can be correct or incorrect. Thus both aspects of doxa, look and view, have the capacity to be be pseudos, false, distorted.

This opens up the realm of untruth for the first time, the stated aim of Heidegger’s engagement with the Theatetus dialogue, and which only now, half way through the lecture course, makes an appearance.

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The Second Answer

The first part of the The Aviary Blog followed Martin Heidegger’s account of Plato’s Theaetetus, from Socrates’ statement of the dialogue’s main question: “what is knowledge?” up to the rejection of Theaetetus’ first answer: “knowledge is perception.”

It was shown that perception, that which is given through the senses does not give us access to beings, and therefore cannot have a relation to knowledge, understood as the possession of truth, and therefore to being.

Rather than through the senses, knowledge is to be found in the soul’s striving relationship to beings, which gives us the possibility of their unhiddenness as being. The question then becomes about the character of this relationship, in which the possession of truth and therefore knowledge is made possible. It is immediately seen that this relationship has what Heidegger calls a double claim, it is in the relationship to beings, but it is also that which gives beings in their presence, such that they show themselves from themselves – i.e. as appearance.

The task then becomes the discovery of the phenomenon that involves this duality, the self-showing of beings as well as the soul’s relationship to being. This leads to Theatetus’ second answer to Socrates’ question, that “knowledge resides in the region of doxa,” the question now is what does doxa mean?

Next post: What is Doxa?