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The Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy Newsletter


The Platonic Dream

David Gallop
Trent Univ,

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Recommended Citation
Gallop, David, "The Platonic Dream" (1965). The Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy Newsletter. 35.

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Io Dreams2 Delusive and Prophetic

The sheer number of Plato9s allusions to dreams is


remarkableo They occur in most of the major dialogues,3 some-

times repeatedly within a single worko Some are made only in

passing or have no specia,l bearing upon the argu.mento But more

often they have a discernible pointo

As we might expect dreams are commonly associated with

delusions or absurditieso In the Statesman (290B) the Eleatic

Stranger says that he was not dreaming when he asserted a certain

view9 meaning that he was by no means deludedo In. the Theaetetus

(190B) Socrates says: "You have never even in sleep9 gone as far

as to say to yourself tat odd numbers must be even9

or anything

of that sort"o Similarly in the Pb.filebus (65E) we re told that

"No one ever saw wisdom or i.ntelligence being or becoming dis- .


graceful, whether waking or dreaming11o In the same dialogue

(36E) Socrates ppeals to dres9 to support the view that one

may think that one is enjo,ying onest:;lf when one is not o Dreams

can also represent disappointed expectationso Ih the Lysis

(2180) Socrates begins his refutation of a promising theory with

the w0rds: "It looks as if we have had a golden dream (

peploutkenai)11o He uses the same phrase in the Theaetetus (208B)?
,I I

after exploding an interpretation of the theory describe earlier

in his own "dream" (2QlE)o

There are9 however9 veridical4 as well as delusive dreamso

In the Philebus a theory which Socrates thinks he may have heard

in a dream (20B) subsequently tu:i:-ns out to be trueo Elsewhere

I .

(Charmides 173A) he echoes Penelope0s distinction (Odyssey XIX,

560ff .) between dreams that come through gates of ivory and those

that come through gates of ho'rn. The dreams in Plato1s more sig-

nificant allusions are often of the latter kindo The dreamer is

not wholly deluded. His belief is correct, yet his state of mind

is somehow i:p.adequateo Behind such allusions there lies the

notion of a prophetic dream, a supernatural vision or abnormal

experience in which divine commands are given9 or truths are re

vealed that are not accessible to the waking 'mind o Thus in the

Apology (33C) dreams are one source of Socrates 1 conviction that

he must continue his mission to the Athenian peopleo In the Crito

(44B) he can base his prediction that the sacred vessel will ar-

rive next day upon a dream9 whose meaning9 for once9 is said to

be "all too clear11o Again, in the Phaedo (60E) he explains that he

has been writing verses to test the meaning of a recurrent dream

bidding him cultivate the arts.

These allusions do not 9 of course, imply that him-

self subscribed to popular belief in the significance of dreamso

The Timaeus (45E-46A) offers an account of them in terms of r esid-

ual internal "motions":

"When some stronger motions are left, they give rise to

images answering in character and number to the motions
and regions in which they persist--images which are
copies made inside and remembered when. we are awake in
he world outside" (transo Fo!Vlo Cornford) o

Later in the same work (71A-E) a special explanation is given of

prophetic dreams. They are supposed to be images perceived by the

irrational part of the soul upon the smooth surface o.f the liver



"No man in his normal senses deals in true and inspired

divinatiqn, but only when the'power of--understanding is
fettered in sleep or he is distraught by some disorder
or9 it may be9 by divine possessiQnQ It is for the man
in his ordinary senses to recall and construe the utter
ances 9 in dream or in waking lifej of divination or
possession" (71E)a

The'.dream requires interpretation!! but the dreamer himself is not

best qualified to provide ito Socrates, we may recall!I found the

poets incompetent at interpreting heir own works (Apology 22B)a

.In the Symposium (175E) he remarks ironically tI?-at his own wisdom

is a poor thing9 a,.nd disputable (amphisbtsimos) like a dreapi.9

compared with the clear vision of Agahon, the poeto The poet's

vision, he implies, is obscure in comparison with the philosopher1s9


and his expresson of it is ambiguouso The dream figure suggests

the enigmatic character of poetry that Plato derides elsewhereo

In the Phaedrus9 however!I unclearness and ambiguity are

held to be inherent in writings of any kind philosophic ones in

cluded o Any writer '.s belief that his work possesses great stabi

lity and clarity is said to be a reproach to himo

"E;or ignorance of what is a waking vision and what is a

mere dream-image of justice and injustice good and evil9
cannot truly be acquitted of involving reproach" (277D) 0

If this interpretation of the relevant sentence is correct9 the

contrast between waking and dreaming here represel'l;ts the difference

between a thorough grasp of value concepts obtained through oral

dialectic, and a partial understanding based on the written wordo

In this respect, the Platonic dialogues themselve may be regarded

as dreamso Like paintings they cannot answer questions or defend

themselves against attack (Phaedrus 275D)o Like dreams they are


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the moment are certainly true" (158D)o On the face of it9 this

merely suppo.rts the Protagorean position: the dreamer has as good

a claim to truth as the waking mano But the remark may well be

double-edgedo Despite he Protagorean claim, dream experience is

not true o The mind s 'strenuous contention" is misguided 0 Here

confidence is no criterion of trutho If so9 the plain I(lans

ascription of truth to his own normal "waking" experience is open

to doubto Regarded in this way? the passage not only asks how we

should prove that we'are not dreaming; it also implies that in a

certain sense we areo Our normal sensory awareness is9 as the

Timaeus has suggested9 a waking dreamo


IIo Dreaming and Waking in the Republic

This notion is elaborated systematically in the Republico

In Book V9 after has affirmed the need for philosophers to

be rulers he contrasts them with lovers of spectacle ( philo

theamones ) and says tnat tne latter "live in a dream 11 (onar zn ) o

For9. he argues9 a man is dreaming9 whether he be awake or asleep1

if he mistakes a likeness for that which it is likeo This is the


mistake that the lover of spectacle makes He fails to distinguish

between the many beautiful things of sense experienc and the Form

of Beuty itselfo By contrast9 the philosopher, who does make this

di$tinction9 lives yery much wake ( mala llllupar 476D)o13 Similarlys

inBook VII9 a man who cannot define the notion of Good is said to

be "dreaming and dozing through his present life119 and "before he

awakens here he will arrive at t.lte house of Hades and fall asleep

for ever" (5340-D) o

Broadly9 this may b ta.ken to mean that the non-pllrd.losopher

lives in pirmanent unawareness of a higher order of experienceo He

remains in what Aldous Huxley has called "the quasi-hypnotic

trance i,n which most humatl beings live9 and from which it is the .aim
. '

and purpos'e" of all true philosophy 9 all genuinely spiritual religion to

deliver them''"

But the dream figure may also be interpreted more narrowly

in this context if we reflect upon the kirid of experience our

dreams give uso Typically they are (a ) indistp:ict\I (b ) incoherent\/

and (c) unstableo Their images are less clear than those of waking

consciousnesso They juxtapose elements unrelated in waking life,and

they are short-lived in comparison with waking experienceo These

features, although not common to all dreams, are characteristic

of themo They are our basis for ascribing a "dream-like quality"

to an experience9 or even for wondering seriously (outside philo

sophy) whether we are dreaming or noto They are also precisely

the properties for which Plato condemns the sensible as opposed to

the intelligible world9 belief as opposed to knowledgeo


(a) Belief is said not to exceed knowledge in clarity

(saph@neia) 9 or ignorance in unclity (asapheia) o It is "darker"

(skotddesteron) than the former, but "brighter" (phanoteron) than

the latter (4780)o The cognitive states of t.he Divided Line are

proportioned in respect of degrees of clarity (saph@neia 511E)o

Objects in the visible world are placed between "being" and "not

being" on the grod that they will appear neither "darker" than the

latter nor 9brighter" than the former (4790) o (b) Their lack of

clarity s connected with their incoherence vizo their propensity

to manifest contrary qualitieso Te many beautiful9 just and holy

things will also appear ugly 9 unjust and unholy (479A) The same

applies to things large and small eavy and light double and half

(479B)o The senses report the same thing as both hard and soft

thick and thin (523-4)0 A sta:te that is really neither pleasant nor

painful can appear to be both (583E-584A)o Things seen may appear

to be both straight arid bent concave and convex (602C)o (c) Since

phenomena are thus incoherent9 our judgments about them are unstableo

The soul? when beholding the world of c;hange "shifts its opinions

hither and thither" (508D)o The "power of appearances" leads us

a.stray and confuses our judgments (Protagoras. 356D)o The soul is

"dizzy as if drunk" (Phaedo 790) o

By eontrast9 the objects of the Intelligible worldj and

the judgments made by mathematicians and philosophers about them9

possess (a) the distinctnessj (b) the coherence9 and (c) the

stability of normal waking visiono Mathematicians define their

terms clearlyo Their propositions are logically ordered9 mutually

consistent9 and eternally trueo The mii;id is unshakably convinced

of their truth once they have been demonstrated ( 98A)o

The same advantages would be available for judgments of

value9 if philosophy were all that Plato hoped that it might becomeo

Dialectic would provide inter alia a "science of values" by means of

which practical questio;ns could be infallibly solvedo The solutions

would be unaffected by the peronal view-points or interests of those

who reached them like answers to questions of size and number

, . .

tained by measurement and calculationo15 "Value" knowledge would

enable waking vision to replace

deaming in human affairso The
dreamer9s private world of subjective judgment would be abandoned

for the public world of waking men9 sharing a common intellectual ex=

perience9 and solving their problems objectively by means of agreed

I . I 1. I I '
( . ' '

procedures o " 1 . ,
. '

The philosopher rulers training in these procedures would

provide him with a rationale for those judgments of value that he had

learned to make uncritically when young (401E-402A)o This perhaps

gives point to the suggestion (414D=0E) that the guardians u early

edu'ca.tiop. happened to them "as if in a. dream11 o In context this

curious story is intended to bolster up the myth of their autoch-

thonous origino In a sense9 however9 their early education

dream-.like9 for it exposed them to sensible imags of Beauty and


other Forms9 which they would see directly only later in life9 when

trained in dialectico

So far t:ij:e paradigm of waking visions has been provided by

mathematicso Yet there is one place in Book VII where the mathem

atician himself is said to be a drearnero

"Geometry and the studies that accompany it are9 as we

see9 dreaming about being9 but the clear waking vision
of :Lt is impossible .for them as long as they leave the
assumptions which they employ undisturbed and cannot
give any account of them" (53313) o

In what sense does the mathematician9s failure to qestion his

assumptions make him a dremer? A dreamer has no guarantee that his

convictions are trueo Even the most vivid and coherent of dreams

need not be so 0 To call the mathematician a dreamer :is thus to


imply that9 despite the coherence of his syst;em9 he !!!!-X be deluded o

Internal consistency is no guarantee of trtho17 However clearly his

terms are defined9 and however logically :his propositions are ordered

his conclusions may not be trueo They rest upon purely hypothetical

foundations1 so long as his definitions and axioms remain unchallengedo

The hypothetical status of mathematics needs to be abolished and its

categorical truth established9 by dialectico Like the lovers of

spectacle ( !.J.o theamones) of Book V9 however9 mathematicians remain

unaware of their limitationso They too are satisfied with images

beyond which they feel no need to inquire9 with mere logoi9 words and

definitions9 whose real designata they never call in questiono

A case for regarding the mathematician9s objects as

. .
"verbal images" has .been put forward elsewhereois Here i.t will be

of interest to see its connection with the dreaming:waking antithesis9

and thus with the different degrees of cognition in the Divided Lineo

. The close relati.on between images and dreams in Plato 1 s

thought is made especially clear in the Sophist (266D)9 where a

real house is contrasted with a painted one? 8i!ld the latter is

described as "a man-made dream for waking eyes11o To paint a

picture is to produce a kind of dreamo Conversely9 to behold a

dream is to see a kind of pictureo he dreamer9 like the pie=

ture viewer9 lacks direct vision of a real object9 but sees only

the imago J!urthermo;re9 as we have noticed9 he confuses likeness

with originalo He fails to recognize that the object before him

is a mre image9 and he will nt acnowledge the assistance of any

reality beyond t (Republic 476D)o

The relevance of this to the Divided Line can now be

seen. Just as the relation of image to original expresses differ

ent degrees of "reality" (a.ltheia) in the Line9s objects so that

of dreaming to waking expresses diffrent degres of "clarity"


(saphneia)in its cognitive stateso This can bet be brought

out in a diagram:

' ,, \ . \-i

'i Books VIVII

" .\,
I . (
0-= c;...;t;.:
e;..;: s;...''_--- --" ,.o ;;
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;; _--..,..
__ 'G
'....; ;..; c
e ;;..t
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Forms Aa Dialectic (nosis)

Forms A Philosopher

Verbal Ab Mathematics (dianoia)

Images !'Dreaming"

Material Ba Natura.l Science

Things + Crafts (J2istis)
. ;,
' '

Sensibles B Philotheamon Images Bb Ordina,ry Man

"Dreaming11 11Dreaming" (e;!;kasia)

The dreaming: waking atithesis is used initially in

Book V to contrast the philosopher with the lover of spectacle9

knowledge (gnc'.3sis ) with belief ( doxa ) o The lover of spec acl e is t

dreaming, in that he mistakes likenesses (particular
beautiful things ) for the realities which they resemble ( the
Form of Bea.uty ) o The same antithesis is used to draw an

analogous contrast in Book VII o Mathe'maticians only "dream about

being". Unlike dialecticians they do not view the Forms directly,

but see them only through the medium of logoi verbal imageso

The application of this to the lower segments of the

I ,

Line is? h owev er 9 more difficult o Plato nowhere qescribes the'

state of! as ndreaming" 9 and it is not clear that a man in


this state could make a mistake analogous to that of te lover of

spectacle or the mathematiciano For even the most unenlightened

. ' . . ., . .

men ar.e not given to mistaking images9 ieo shadows or reflections9

for the objects that cast them9 or refusing to distinguish be

tween such images and their originalso

But thi difficulty can be overcome o If the. "images''

perceived in eikasia are interpreted more widely9 so as to

include "appearances" ( "impressions"9 "sense-data" ) in general9

the dreing:waking antithesis becomes applicab le here tooo On

this view 9 the man in eikasia will be a " realist" 9 a plain

man t. wo draws no distinction between sensible appearances and the ' I


real objec"tfs that produce themo He does not recognise the de

pende:r,i.t and ephemeral character of 11appearances 119 so aptly

symbolised by shadows and reflectionso The qualities of dream

images noted earlier, vizo their lack of clarity9 coherence and

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Their fantasies are d.oubtless 9 of a more elevated kind. But

fantasies they remain. The ideal city of the Republic is little

more than a pipe-dream.

When introducing his plan for women and children

Socrates expresses the fear that his audience will think him merely

day-dreaming (m euch@ dok(i) einai ho logo, 450D) and compares

himself with idle thinkers who pretend to themselves that their

wishes are already granted (458A). Admittedlyjl he professes to

argue that the plan is "not impracticable or utopian (ouk adunata

oude euchais homoia)" (456l3499C)t that the city "is not altogether

a day-dream, but that though it is difficult it is in a way possible"


(540D). But the tone of these passages is thoroughly pessimistic.

The city, he tells us, could "most easily" be realisedjl if at all

by separating children under tlie age of. ten from their parents

and training them de novo (541A-B). Since he has hinted earlier

that such measures would not be at all easy (ou panu rha(i)dion

501A), to suggest that they afford the "easiest" means of realis-

ing the city is only9 once again9 to underline its improbability.

In Book VII, wen telling his trained phlosophers that

they must go back into the Cave jl Socrates says to the.m:

'In this way both for us and for you (h!1lin kai humin)
the city will become a waking reality 9 and n'Ota dreaJih
like most existing cities, which are peopled by men 1wtto
fight one another for shadows and 'for' office as
if that were a great good" (5200-D). 2r

There E?eems to be a double-entendre in this c,unningly worded

sentence. The city will become a waking reality in two senses.

"For you" because it will be ruled by "you" phj.osophers:1 and


not by the dreamers who now contend for power. In this sense it

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9o Interpretations of the dream in this cont ext varyo According

to E.So Thompson (edo Meno Po 140) the slave's opinions are

sti ll "fluid and insecure0o J. Gou ld (The Development of

Plato's Ethics Po 136) says that the reference is to their

"instability" and "apparent strang eness". RoSo Bluck (ed o

Po 33, note 2) thinks that the slave has had nonly a dream

like memory of the truths concerned aroused in him9 and there

is l ittle or no akribeia"o This see ms correct9 as against

Bluck's later suggestion (p. 311) that t he arousing of th e

slave's opinions has been comparable to the recalling of a

dream. Rather, it has been comparable with his havi ng a

dream, w hich is itself a recall of previous experienceo

lOo AoEo Taylor (Commentary on Timaeus, note on 52B3) denies tha t

t h e passage means t hat w e lack a clear visi on o f space itself.

He takes it to mean only that "with regard t o it [space] we

dream w ith our eyes open" o However, the dream figure does

seem to be connected with the idea that we a pprehend space "by

bastard reasoning" 9 i,_.e_o that its existence i s n ot perceived9

but has to be inferredo

11. Meditations I fin.,.III inito

120 Note that Socrates here foists the dream language upon Theae

tetuso The latter has n ot mentioned dreams at all ,. although

he later agrees (202C) that Socrates' account tallies with

the dream as he has heard it.

13. From now on all references are to the Republic unless oth erwise

notedo P. Shorey's translation in the Loeb Classical Library

is used throughout, with minor modif ications.


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210 For this vie w of the objects of eikasia cf o HoJo Paton9

"PlatoYs Theory of Eikasia ", Proceedings of the Aristotelian

Society, Vol. XXII, 1921-22. See also DoWo Hamlyn, "Eikasia

in Plato's Republic"9 Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. VIII, 19580

This interpretation, whi ch was also Austin's, is supported by

the treatment of painting in Book X. The painter of an ordi

nary bed is there said to make "an appa rent bed" (kline

phainomene 9 596E), or to represent "the appearance as it appe ars"

(to phainomenon hos phainetai, 598B). His work is phantasmatos

mimsisj i.eo he reproduces the appearance o f the bed. Here

Plato treats the "appearanc e", the single partial aspect c ap

tured by the painter, p.s an image of the bed - smikron ti heka

stou ephaptetai. kai touto eidol_QQ, 598Bo The s ensible appear

ance is related to the physical object as image to ori ginal9

and is thus an appropriate "object" for eikasiao I am grate

ful to Mro JoLo .Ackrill for drawing thi s line to my attention

although he wou ld perhaps not accept the use here made of ito

220 In t hese respects the relation between a physical object and

its appearances is analogous to that between a Form and the

objects that fall under ito

230 This contrast recalls the distincti on in the Gorgias 464B ffo

between genuine and pseudo-artso The genuine craftsman aims

to benefit rather than to pl ease, and his methods are scienti

fic, not merely empiric alo

24. The Greeks and the Irratio nal, p. 102.

250 I hav e translated this s entence literally. It may be noted9

however, that Shorey renders ta emoi phainomena houto phainetai

as "my dream as it appears to m e"o

260 How this guarantee is to be provided remains obscure, in

Plato as in Descartes. Adequate treat ment of it wou ld re

quire an elucidation of the Form of the Good in its relation

both to other Forms an d to God, a suchnon ergon which lies

beyond the scope of th is p apero

27a kai houtd h upar hfmin kai humin h polis oik8setaia ill' ouk

onar, hos nun hai pollai hupo skiam achounton te pros allelous

kai stasiazonton peri tou archein oikountai. hos megalou tinos

agathou ontoso

28. Mind 193 2, p. 174.

290 For hupar ant' oneiratos in the sense of "reality as oppo!?ed

to mere fantasy" cf. also .. III, 319B.