The Teleological Significance Of Dreaming In Aristotle

Mor Segev

in Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, Volume 43

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199666164
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191751936 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy

The Teleological Significance Of Dreaming In Aristotle

Show Summary Details


In his discussions of dreaming in the Parva Naturalia, Aristotle neither claims nor denies that dreams serve a natural purpose. Modern scholarship generally interprets dreaming as useless and teleologically irrelevant for him. This paper argues that Aristotle's teleology permits certain types of dream to have a natural role in end-directed processes. Dreams are left-overs from waking experience, but they may, like certain bodily residues, be used by nature, which does ‘nothing in vain’ and makes use of available resources, for the benefit of the beings in which they occur. Contrary to prevalent opinions, Aristotle does not assimilate dreams to sensory illusions and does not hold that they have no interaction with our reasoning capacity. Dreams constitute a special class of the products of phantasia, but this does not prevent them from functioning like other (waking) phantasmata. In Aristotle's view, dreams regularly generate 'natural signs' of diseases and cause waking actions. This preparatory power of dreams, often dismissed or attributed to divine intervention in antiquity, is captured within Aristotle’s natural philosophy, and provides evidence that (some) dreams are (or should be) regarded by him as having a teleological significance.

Keywords: Aristotle; dreams; phantasia; phantasmata; Parva Naturalia; residues; sense-perception; teleology; practical reasoning

Chapter.  15190 words. 

Subjects: Ancient Philosophy

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.