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Theoria

Greek philosophic term of the week: “Theoria” (from “theoroí”: city ambassadors or emissaries to the sacred oracles or games of the gods; meaning: “viewing, spectating, witnessing” else “contemplating, considering”)

In modern English parlance, a theory is often taken to mean an hypothesis or someone’s pet notion which they purport explains something (e.g. “I have a theory about…”). In technical usage in the sciences, the influence of empiricism sometimes tends to give it the meaning of “an objective statement which organizes observable sense-data”, though often it’s given a slightly more open meaning of “a reasonable, demonstrable generalization about the world”.

Originally, the meaning was somewhat more profound; it referred to the actual act of going forth as a sort of emissary to reality and attempting to directly perceive something as it truly is, and then to communicate what you’ve witnessed without embellishment. “To theorize”, then, would mean acting out the calling to see things as they truly are, and to speak the truth about what one’s found out or uncovered.

In The Republic and Timaeus, Socrates and the Pythagorean philosopher, Timaeus, distinguish this fundamental activity of witnessing the world from two related activities: “hypothesizing” (i.e. coming-up with a reasonable thesis which you’ll use as a foothold to get at the goal), and “hypoarchontôn” (i.e. coming-up with a symbol or concept which helps to communicate some fundamental principle with you’ve gained insight into - what we now mean by coming up with an explicit “theory”). Ultimately, all hypotheses themselves would have to be subjected to examination so as to avoid obscuring one’s vision of things.

Thus, the expression “theorizing” refers primarily to, for instance, the equivalent of field-work, lab-work, research, watching, listening, or contemplation (or all of the above) until such time as you managed to clearly apprehend the truth of the matter: an activity which typically begins with hypothesizing or “having a hunch”, and, if successful, ending with some form of symbolization or conceptualization.

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