Noble Lie Essay, Research Paper
In Bloom’s second edition of “The Republic of Plato,” there are many troubling issues. The one that strikes me the most, however, is the idea of the “noble lie.” I find this completely disturbing for a number of reasons. It is immoral and wrong to deliberately deceive someone. This idea also completely contradicts Socrates’ argument that it is beneficial to be just.
In the discussion between Socrates and Glaucon that involved how to create an ideal city, they divided the people into three classes: rulers, auxiliaries, and craftsmen. In this city each class has a certain role. The rulers are the highest of rank in the city. They are older, wise men who govern the state and make decisions in the best interest of the city. The auxiliaries are to assist the rulers in executing and enforcing their laws and decisions. The final class, the craftsmen, are needed to carry on all necessary lines of work. They take no part in governing or protecting the city. The craftsmen are the doctors, farmers, blacksmiths, bricklayers, etc. To keep the three classes from fighting and meddling in each other’s business and destroying the harmony and unity of the state, Socrates came up with the idea of the noble lie.
Socrates suggests that the noble lie be spread slowly, first to the rulers, then to the auxiliaries, and then to the rest of the public. The noble lie is comprised of two parts. The first part of the message is that everyone’s youth, education, and training was just a dream. In reality, they were created in the Earth itself; the Earth is their mother. When they were complete, the Earth sent them up to the surface. Socrates believes this idea will give a reason to say that the land they defend is in fact, their mother and that all fellow citizens are their brothers.
The second part of the lie is called the myth of the metals. The citizens are not only told that God created them in the Earth, but he made them all different. Each class is made of a different metal. The rulers were gold, for they have the greatest honor. The auxiliaries were silver, and the craftsmen were brass and iron. After they have been created, they lead normal human lives and they are able to have children. Unfortunately, sometimes parents from one line will have children from another. God states above all else, the races should be kept separate and pure. So if a gold parent for example, has a silver or iron son, this son would have to leave the gold world that his parents come from and take his place in the silver or iron world being an auxiliary or craftsman. The situation could work in reverse also. A silver parent could give birth to a gold son. In this case, the son would leave the parent and take his place in higher rank. Socrates says it is best to tell the people that the races must be kept pure because the prophets have spoken, and the city will be destroyed if the rule is not observed and followed.
Socrates regretfully doubts that the people will actually believe the noble lie to be literally true at first, but that eventually the lie will spread down to the later generations. He wants the lie to teach a valuable lesson that will increase loyalty to the city.
When he delivers the theory of the noble lie to Glaucon, Socrates seems to be hesitant. When Glaucon asks why, Socrates replies that he will understand after the idea is expressed. After Socrates explains the noble lie, Glaucon then understands why Socrates was so hesitant. Glaucon expresses to Socrates that he should be ashamed of concocting such a scheme. Glaucon agrees with Socrates that if the citizens may not believe the myth at first, the children of later generations who have been raised with the idea would believe it. So at first, Glaucon couldn’t believe that Socrates, supposedly “Mr. Right,” would create this lie and approve of it for the good of the city. By the end of the argument, Glaucon is on board with Socrates and believes that it could possibly work.
I find a few troubling issues that concern this myth. As a result of my frustrations dealing with this concept, I decided to visit the Dictionary.com web site. I researched the definitions of a few words that pertain to this idea of the noble lie.
The first word I looked up is “lie”. A lie is an untrue statement with intent to deceive; something misleading or deceiving. I find it very difficult to believe, but more importantly immoral– that anyone would want the foundation of an entire city based upon a lie. If this myth is targeted towards increasing loyalty to the city; yes, it could very well increase the loyalty, but I have to question the fact that the people are only being loyal because of a myth. How strong is loyalty that is built upon a lie? How loyal will the citizens be when they find out that they weren’t really created in the Earth and all that they have been told is untrue?
Then I researched the word “noble.” Noble means very good or excellent. I have a hard time understanding that something that is meant to deceive can be considered very good or excellent. According to the saying, “You are only as strong as your roots”, civilization in this city, will never be strong. This civilization doesn’t even know who or what their roots are.
Since I am doing this assignment for an Ethics class, and I am supposed to be learning what is ethically correct and incorrect, I decided to research the word “ethical”. Ethical means involving or expressing moral approval or disapproval. I don’t think that founding a city on a lie is beneficial. The people are not able to have any love and respect for what or where they came from, why they believe what they believe, and why they are who they are.
Socrates is supposed to be one of the greatest philosophers of all time. I totally agree with him that it is good to be just as discussed in Book I and II, but the noble lie is nowhere near being just. How can a lie be considered a just or right thing? Now it is difficult for me to look to Socrates as a reference for what is ethically right and wrong when he would fool human beings into believing they are something and someone they are not. Why would anyone want to live in a city where there is no love for one another? The citizens are only concerned with what is in the best interest of the city. In my views, honesty and caring for other human lives is far more important than geographical location.
There are better ways to persuade loyalty to the city than by lying and letting those individuals live and believe a lie. If the first people in the city were taught the importance and vitality of loyalty to the state, then that would get passed down from generation to generation. Most of what I know concerning life, I learned from my parents. So, if people were taught from generation to generation that loyalty is the key to upholding a city, and that there was a strict penalty or punishment for not being loyal, lies would not have to be told to every human being in your city about where they originated from and how they are supposed to live their lives.
In conclusion, the idea that this myth can be considered “noble” and a moral foundation of a city is far from “ethical.” I had a certain respect for Socrates and his thoughts previous to Book III, but now I can’t understand why we look to him for the answers to what is ethically and morally correct. In my analysis of his conversations, I believe that he is willing to manipulate, play mind games, and go to any necessary extremes to achieve and prove his ideas.