What Does the Term "Doxa" Mean?

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

A painting of William Shakespeare
Talk of the genius of Shakespeare is part of the doxa.

Oli Scarff/Getty Images

In classical rhetoric, the Greek term doxa refers to the domain of opinion, belief, or probable knowledge—in contrast to episteme, the domain of certainty or true knowledge.

in Martin and Ringham's Key Terms in Semiotics (2006), doxa is defined as "public opinion, majority prejudice, middle-class consensus. It is linked to the concept of doxology, to everything that is seemingly self-evident in terms of opinion, or conventional practice and habit. In England, for example, talk of the genius of Shakespeare is part of the doxa, as is a meal of fish and chips or a game of cricket."

Etymology: From the Greek, "opinion"

What is Doxa?

  • "[T]he condemnation of rhetoric as trafficking in opinions about justice has dogged the art ever since Plato wrote Gorgias. . . . 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."
    (James A. Herrick, The History and Theory of Rhetoric: An Introduction, 3rd ed. Allyn and Bacon, 2005)

Two Meanings in Contemporary Rhetoric

  • "In contemporary rhetorical theory, we can distinguish two meanings of the classical term doxa. The first is more faithful to the classical heritage; it therefore stems from an epistemic perspective grounded in the contrast between certainty and probability. The second unfolds along a social and cultural dimension and is concerned with sets of beliefs widely espoused by popular audiences. These two meanings do not necessarily represent a shift from classical to modern theory. Aristotle distinguished doxa as opinion, from episteme as certainty. But in listing various beliefs with a high degree of probability—such as revenge being sweet, or rare objects as more valuable than those that exist in abundance—he also identified specific cultural, social (or what we call ideological) assumptions based on which the premise of an argument can be seen as plausible and be agreed upon by the members of a particular community."
    (Andreea Deciu Ritivoi, Paul Ricoeur: Tradition and Innovation in Rhetorical Theory. SUNY Press, 2006)

Rational Doxa

  • "In The Republic, . . . Socrates says, 'Even the best of opinions are blind' (Republic 506c). . . . One can never be the master of one's own doxa. As long as one lives in the domain of doxa, one is enslaved to the prevailing opinions of his social world. In the Theaetetus, this negative meaning of doxa is replaced by a positive one. In its new meaning, the word doxa can no longer be translated as belief or opinion. It is not something passively received from someone else, but rather actively made by the agent. This active notion of doxa is given by Socrates' description of it as the soul's dialogue with itself, asking itself questions and answering, affirming and denying, and finally making a decision (Theaetetus 190a). And the decision can be rational if the soul's conversation is rational.
    "This is the theory of rational doxa, the doxa plus logos . . .."
    (T. K. Seung, Plato Rediscovered: Human Value and Social Order. Rowman & Littlefield, 1996)
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Nordquist, Richard. "What Does the Term "Doxa" Mean?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/doxa-rhetoric-term-1690480. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 28). What Does the Term "Doxa" Mean? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/doxa-rhetoric-term-1690480 Nordquist, Richard. "What Does the Term "Doxa" Mean?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/doxa-rhetoric-term-1690480 (accessed June 10, 2023).