Cynthia Freeland
Seminar Spring 2011: Plato on Vision and Images

Tues 2:30-5:30 512 Agnes Arnold Hall


Course Description


This course will involve a close study of Plato’s theory of vision and images. The entire world is an image or “eikon” according to Plato, so his overview of the realm of Forms from the Phaedo affords us entry into the general system of his metaphysics. We will move on to examine details of Plato’s account of physical reality, visual perception, perceptual illusions. The last topic is significant because it is used both in Plato’s account of art in Republic X and as the model for something like pleasure- and desire-illusions in various of his works. This parallel with vision and visual illusions informs Plato’s theory of ethics and provides the basis for explaining how the good life aims at avoiding pleasure illusions so as to pursue the most truly pleasant things.


We will begin with a review of the classic presentation of the theory of forms in the Phaedo, reading it together with some key passages of the Republic (the metaphors of Cave, Line, and Sun, plus Book X).  We then move on to focus on three works in their entirety. First is the Theaetetus, a dialogue focused on epistemological issues, including the relation between perception and knowledge and the rebuttal of relativism. Second, the Timaeus presents Plato’s cosmological views through a creation story about the universe and the role of humans within it. Finally we will study the Philebus, in which Plato advances both a revised metaphysics and a new ethics that allows for the inclusion of pleasure in the good life. This work develops a sophisticated analysis of pleasure and desire, and defends Socrates’ controversial claim that there can be “false pleasures” or “pleasure illusions.”


Students will be expected to write a weekly exegesis on an assigned text and to write either two ten-page papers or one twenty-page seminar paper. We will consult both the ancient texts (any Greek-readers are welcome!) and recent commentaries and journal articles on these works.


Books:  Required


Theatetus (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
by Plato (Author), M.J. Levett, Trans.

Revised by Myles Burnyeat

Hackett, paperback



Timaeus (Paperback by Plato (Author), Donald J. Zeyl (Translator)

Hackett Publishing Company; New Ed edition (March 2000)

$10.95/$6.05 used

·  ISBN-10: 0872204464

·  ISBN-13: 978-0872204461



Philebus by Plato, translated Dorothea Frede

Hackett Pub Co Inc. (paperback)

ISBN 0872201708 (0-87220-170-8)




Phaedo (Oxford World’s Classic) (Paperback)

By Plato (Author), David Gallop (Translation, edition)

ISBN 0-19-283090-2


Plato Complete Works (Hardcover)  
by Plato (Author), John M. Cooper (Editor), D. S. Hutchinson (Editor) ·  1808 pages

Hackett Publishing Company (May 1997)

·  ISBN-10: 0872203492

·  ISBN-13: 978-0872203495


The Cambridge Companion to Plato (Cambridge Companions to Philosophy) (Paperback)   by Richard Kraut

Cambridge University Press (October 30, 1992)

·  ISBN-10: 0521436109

·  ISBN-13: 978-0521436106