Doxa’s View of Nothing

In the next account, pseudos is looked at from the perspective of being and non-being, that something either is or is not. Pseudos means distortion; “something looks like…but behind which there is nothing,” what is seen in the pseudes doxa is thus non-existing, in seeing something in the distorted view we see nothing. (194) The claim is made that we cannot direct ourselves towards nothing, therefore the false view is once again found to be impossible.

Heidegger notes Socrates’ reasoning is a deliberately false path. What is seen in doxa is being, that which is there as the pregiven for what is physically present. The claim that we must always see the concrete thing directs the analysis away from the seeing of being towards seeing as the operation of our eyes, which are incapable of registering the non-existent, they simply take in information.

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The Confusion of Doxa

The first perspective from which the pseudes doxa, the false view, is examined, is that of the guiding principle of knowledge, that we either know something or we do not know it. If you know something you do not not-know it and vice versa. In light of this the false view is at one and the same time a view and not a view. It is a view through which we think we know something, but at the same time we do not know it, because our view is false. An example of this state of affairs is given:

Someone who knows both Theaetetus and Socrates, sees a man, who is actually Theaetetus, coming towards him, but who he takes for Socrates. Thus he takes Theaetetus, whom he knows, as not he whom he knows, i.e. Theaetetus, but as someone else, i.e. as Socrates, but it is not Socrates.

The outcome of this is that someone who knows both Socrates and Theaetetus also simultaneously does not know them, in other words he confuses them. Therefore in the case of the false view, one knows, and does not know one and the same thing. (191) But the principle of knowledge that one either knows or does not know something makes this impossible – therefore the conclusion is reached that the pseudes doxa cannot exist.

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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” which we have in aisthesis (perception), and the soul’s relationship to being, which we have in dianoia (inner perception). 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 my commentary on Martin Heidegger’s account of Plato’s Theaetetus, in The Essence of Truth, led 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?

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The First Answer Refuted

It is at this point that the question of whether aisthesis, perception, is the essence of knowledge, as claimed by Theaetetus in his first answer to Socrates, is “decided in the negative.”

Aisthesis “refers to what is given in the senses,” hearing, seeing etc, which, as we have seen, does not give us access to beings, and by extension unhiddenness. Knowledge on the other hand is understood as the possession of truth i.e. the unhiddenness of beings, aletheia, which is achieved through the soul. This leads Socrates to conclude that it is possible to possess being and unhiddenness in this latter way, but not in the former way, therefore “perception and knowledge could never be the same.” (174)

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