Monday, August 31, 2015

Doxa, doxa, doxa... and economics

One of the most important points Eric Voegelin stressed in his work was that it is always actual experiences that are fundamental: intellectual symbolisms of those experiences are secondary phenomena. And when those symbolisms take on a life of their own, divorced from the actual experience that engendered them, they become "hieroglyphs": the fossils of once living ideas.

So, some of my readers may be puzzled as to what I have been on about lately with my multiple posts on "doxa," and why I am using this Greek word to describe... well, what, exactly?

The thing is, I had known this term for perhaps a decade before I ever started using it. And for a decade, I was vague about what it meant... and then, about a month ago -- you can probably trace the exact date by looking at my blog posts! -- I suddenly saw what Plato and Aristotle were talking about when they used this term. Since then, I have been trying to present symbols of what the experience I had meant, but they are merely indices, or pointers, to the experience itself. As such, they can at best be hints as to what the actual experience is, and never formal definitions as to how doxa is distinguished from reason (as Aristotle would have defined reason: participation in the divine nous: we reason when we participate in God's universal mind).

In any case, I offer you another example of doxa, in the hopes of indicating a path to understanding the experience of differentiating doxa from reason, not of offering an airtight definition of a "concept":

This semester, I am once again teaching macroeconomics, using a textbook I quite like. (And, by the way, it is a fairly leftist textbook, lest anyone think I am picking on libertarians here!)  But in the first chapter, I find this:

"But there is another, more important reason to ask you, at the outset, about your life goals. Macroeconomics is about how economies work. This is not only interesting as an intellectual puzzle. It matters because when the economy works well people have more opportunities to achieve their goals than when it is working badly. Depending on what your goals are, there are a variety of ways in which you could interpret what it means for an economy to be working 'well' or badly.'"

It is all just a matter of the student's "goals" are as to whether an economy is working well or badly! So should young Adolf Hitler arrive in the authors' class, presumably they would help him to devise "an economy" in which his goal of "wiping out the Jews" could be achieved most effectively!

Of course, the actual authors of the textbook in question would be horrified by this idea: I am not in the least trying to suggest they are actually NeoNazis! My point is that their stated criteria for an economy "working well" per any random student's opinion (doxa!) cannot exclude the young Adolf's view from the field of opinions that ought to be considered.


  1. Well, they don't say "depending on what your goals are, you could interpret what it means for an economy to be working 'well' or badly' in any way you like." "A variety of ways" does not necessarily include Kristallnacht.

    1. Right, Greg, the authors would be horrified by this inclusion. My point is they offer no grounds for excluding it.

  2. Speaking of doxa and economics, can I get an opinion from you on this article about "what ethics can learn from economics". I get the vibe much of it is nonsense due to this sort of disciplinary mixing, but I'm not sure if I'm thinking clearly on the matter.



"If your approach to mathematics is mechanical not mystical, you're not going to go anywhere." -- Nassim Nicholas Taleb