Plato and the “Internal Dialogue”: An Ancient Answer for a New Model of the Self

  • Alexandru-Ovidiu GaceaEmail author
Part of the Philosophical Studies Series book series (PSSP, volume 139)


The Theaetetus and the Sophist depict one of Plato’s most well-known ideas about thought, namely, the dialogue of the soul with itself. Unfortunately, what Plato means by this has been obscured by three habits in the scholarship: (1) to consider the notion as being self-evident, (2) to treat it as being about the immaterial and universal language of thought, and (3) to understand it through the distorting lens of the Christian-modern idea of inwardness and inner private space. I argue for a more tentative reading of “inner dialogue,” where its localization is understood in terms of “physical distinction” and its meaning is construed around Plato’s ideas of polyphony and “microcommunity.” We thereby learn that thinking is a psychophysical process associated with breathing and that it consists of a “coming-together” of multiple “voices.” “Inner dialogue” is mirrored in the overall structure of Plato’s works, and it represents the very way philosophical debate ought to be conducted.


Dialogic mind Cognitive sciences Plato Internal dialogue Polyphony Voice Microcommunity Inwardness Selfhood Immaterial thought Inner private space 


  1. Alderson-Day, B., & Fernyhough, C. (2015). Inner speech: Development, cognitive functions, phenomenology, and neurobiology. Psychological Bulletin, 141(5), 931–965.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alderson-Day, B., Weis, S., McCarthy-Jones, S., Moseley, P., Smailes, D., & Fernyhough, C. (2015). The Brain’s conversation with itself: Neural substrates of dialogic inner speech. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 11(1), 110–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Année, M. (2011). Le “Cratylisme” de Platon: Le Cratyle comme réappropriation philosophique du fonctionnement phonico-pragmatique dela langue poiétique archaïque. Journal of Ancient Philosophy, 5(1), 1–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Augustine. (2002). On the trinity (G. Matthews, Trans.). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Bakhtin, M. (1981). The dialogic imagination (M. Holquist Trans.). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  6. Barton, D. (1999). The Theaetetus on how we think. Phronesis, 44(3), 163–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Blachowicz, J. (1998). Of two minds. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  8. Blachowicz, J. (1999). The dialogue of the soul with itself. In S. Gallagher & J. Shear (Eds.), Models of the self (pp. 177–200). Thorverton, England: Imprint Academic.Google Scholar
  9. Blondell, R. (2002). The play of character in Plato’s dialogues. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bohm, D. (1996). On dialogue. London, England: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Burnyeat, M. (1982). Idealism and Greek philosophy: What Descartes saw and Berkeley missed. The Philosophical Review, 91(1), 3–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cary, P. (2000). Augustine’s invention of the inner self. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Cary, P. (2011). The inner word prior to language. Philosophy Today, 55(2), 192–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Chantraine, P. (2009). Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque. Paris, France: Klincksieck.Google Scholar
  15. Chiesa, C. (1992). Le problème du langage intérieur dans la philosophie antique de Platon à Porphyre. Histoire Épistémologie Langage, 14, 15–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Clarke, M. (1999). Flesh and spirit in the songs of homer. Oxford, England: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  17. Corrigan, K., & Corrigan, E. (2004). Plato’s dialectic at play. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Cossutta, F., & Narcy, M. (2001). La forme dialogue chez Platon. Grenoble, France: J. Millon.Google Scholar
  19. Crivelli, P. (1998). ΑΛΛΟΔΟΞΙΑ. Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie, 80(1), 1–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dennett, D. (1991). Consciousness explained. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company.Google Scholar
  21. Dennett, D. (1992). The self as a center of narrative gravity. In F. Kessel, P. Cole, & D. Johnson (Eds.), Self and consciousness: Multiple perspectives (pp. 103–115). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  22. Dixsaut, M. (2000). Platon et la question de la pensée. Paris, France: J. Vrin.Google Scholar
  23. Duncombe, M. (2016). Thought as internal speech in Plato and Aristotle. Logical Analysis and History of Philosophy, 19, 105–125.Google Scholar
  24. Fernyhough, C. (1996). The dialogic mind: A dialogic approach to the higher mental functions. New Ideas in Psychology, 14(1), 47–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fernyhough, C. (2008). Getting Vygotskian about theory of mind: Mediation, dialogue, and the development of social understanding. Developmental Review, 28(2), 225–262. Scholar
  26. Fernyhough, C., & McCarthy-Jones, S. (2013). Thinking aloud about mental voices. In Hallucination (pp. 87–104). Cambridge, England: MIT.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Frede, D. (1989). The Soul’s silent dialogue a non-aporetic reading of the Theaetetus. Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society, 35, 20–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Gadamer, H.-G. (1989). Truth and method (2nd revised ed.) (J. Weinsheimer & D. G. Marshall, rev. Trans.). New York, NY: Continuum. (Original work published 1960).Google Scholar
  29. Gazzaniga, M. (1985). The social brain. New York, NY: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  30. Gill, C. (1996). Personality in Greek epic, tragedy, and philosophy. Oxford, England: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  31. Gill, C., & McCabe, M. (1996). Form and argument in Late Plato. Oxford, England: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  32. Gonzalez, F. (1998). Dialectic and dialogue. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Gonzalez, F. J. (2016). Plato’s perspectivism. Plato Journal, 16, 31–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Jaynes, J. (1976). The origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  35. Kahn, C. (1996). Plato and the socratic dialogue: The philosophical use of a literary form. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Kahn, C. (2005). The philosophical importance of the dialogue form for Plato. Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal, 26(1), 13–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Long, A. G. (2013). Conversation and self-sufficiency in Plato. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Loraux, N. (1982). Donc Socrate est immortel. In J.-P. Pontalis (Ed.), Le temps de la réflexion (Vol. 3, pp. 19–46). Paris, France: Gallimard.Google Scholar
  39. McCabe, M. M. (2006). Form and the platonic dialogues. In H. H. Benson (Ed.), A companion to Plato (pp. 39–54). Hoboken, NJ: Blackwell Publishing.Google Scholar
  40. Onians, R. (1988). The origins of European thought about the body, the mind, the soul, the world, time, and fate. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Panaccio, C. (1999). Le discours intérieur. De Platon à Guillaume d’Ockham. Paris, France: Éditions du Seuil.Google Scholar
  42. Plato. (1997). In J. Cooper & D. Hutchinson (Eds.), Complete works. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  43. Renaut, O. (2013). De la voix au discours chez Platon. In M. Gaudemar (Ed.), Les plis de la voix (pp. 37–44). Limoges, France: Lambert-Lucas.Google Scholar
  44. Ryle, G., & Kolenda, K. (1979). On thinking. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield.Google Scholar
  45. Trabattoni, F. (2016). Essays on Plato’s Epistemology. Leuven, Be: Leuven University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Vernant, J.-P. (1991). The individual within the city-state. In F. I. Zeitlin (Ed.), Mortals and immortals: Collected essays. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Williams, B. (1993). Shame and necessity. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  48. Wittgenstein, L. (2001). Philosophical investigations (G. E. M. Anscombe, Trans.). London, England: Blackwell. (Original work published 1953).Google Scholar
  49. Woolf, R. (2008). Socratic authority. In P. Remes & J. Sihvola (Eds.), Ancient philosophy of the self (pp. 77–107). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratoire Philosophie, Pratiques & Langages – PPLUniversité Grenoble AlpesGrenobleFrance

Personalised recommendations