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The Noble Lie

The “noble lie” is the Myth of Metals formulated by Plato in attempt to create an order for the ideal state. The lie is based on Plato’s belief that there is a fundamental inequality among men. The order of the ideal state consist of three levels: the highest being the rulers, the middle being the auxiliaries and the lowest being the artisans. In the lie, each level is given a metal equivalent that distinguishes one from the other and this metal is said to be inside of each and every man. Gold, the most precious metal is said to flow through the rulers of the city. This metal is greater than all the other metals because it has been mixed into the man by a god at birth, giving the individual the power to rule. Those whom are mixed with gold are governed by reason, as opposed to auxiliaries who are mixed with silver and are governed by spirit or passion. Appetite governs the lowest class, which is mixed with iron and bronze. Because Plato believes men are naturally unequal, he states that these gifts are natural as well; therefore each man should be content with the metal that flows through them.
When evaluating the different metals, one can see why gold and silver are selected to represent the ruling and auxiliary class; gold is a valuable and precious metal and silver is a precious metal as well, but slightly less valuable. However, two metals represent the artisan class, and neither falls under the precious metal category. Iron and bronze are considered “base” metals, which could explain Plato’s reason for choosing them to represent the artisans. Although the lowest class is seen as petty, they are also necessary and most certainly the base without which the entire structure of the city would falter. There is no explanation for why Plato chose to represent the artisan class with two metals instead of one, but one could argue that iron represents the farmers and those whose professions requires physical labor, while the brass could symbolize the craftsmen and those whose professions require a special skill. Also, bronze is characterized as having the appearance of gold but not the value. One could argue that this parallels the craftsman’s appearance of education, but their lack of ability to reason when compared to the ruling class. This separation can be seen when Plato talks about what a parent should do when their is child born with bronze or iron, “by no manner or means are they to take pity on it, but shall assign the proper value to its nature and thrust it out among the craftsmen or the farmers (3.415c)”, potentially hinting at the two sub-categories of the artisan class.
There is a strong emphasis on the protection and safety of the children in the Myth of Metals. It is of the utmost importance to keep watch over the children to make sure that they grow up to be in the class that corresponds with their metal, and it is up to the parents to fully see this through. In this lie, Plato threatens that if other metals are mixed with gold, the Republic will fall, “believing that there is an oracle that the city will be destroyed when an iron or bronze man is its guardian (3.415c)”. Here, the suggestion of class acceptance turns into the demand for it. There is no choice to accept your place in society, you must. If left to one’s own contemplation of natural ability, one would most likely come to the conclusion that he or she has the same right to rule as anyone else; this feeling being the exact sentiment Plato is attempting to suppress in the “noble lie”.

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