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The Justice in Lying

Socrates and the other men are conversing and believe that the gods and their tales should be eradicated from the poems and the education of young people because the gods are lustrous creatures that punish humans for the same crimes that they themselves commit. If a god, such as Zeus were to rape a woman it would be deemed acceptable, but if a human were to do it, it would be deemed unacceptable. It would be contradictory for this to be brought into the education of young people because they would hear of the gods doing things that they themselves weren’t able to do. So if there are no gods, one has to keep social order in this city in some way. Socrates introduces the noble lie as a way of keeping order in society.
In a world where there are no gods, people do not have anyone to fear repercussion from for doing bad and unjust things. If there are not any gods, then someone else has to give the population guidance. When ruling powers are established, they are to be obeyed because that is what is just, according to Thrasymachus (1.339B). To disobey the ruling body would be an injustice, even if they made a mistake in their political decisions.
It has also been confirmed that it is just for rulers to lie to those that they are ruling. Socrates states that lying is not acceptable for the average citizen, but rather “appropriate for the rulers of the city, if for anyone at all to lie for the benefit of the city as far as either enemies or citizens are concerned” (3.389B). One situation in which it is just and acceptable for a ruler to lie to those that he or she is ruling over is because of the noble lie.
When Socrates establishes who the ruling power will be, he asserts that in order “to persuade at best even the rulers themselves, but if not, the rest of the city” of who the true rulers are (3.414C). He asserts that if the necessity arises, they would have to tell “some one noble lie” (3.414C). This noble lie consists of telling the people that they are born of “the earth, that was their mother” (3.414E). This would create a sense of brotherhood within the people; a bond that couldn’t be broken by relationships, whether they be marital or otherwise. This story also establishes who is to do what in the city. The story tells the people that “the god, when he molded those of you who are competent to be rulers, mixed gold into them at their formation” (3.415A). These people made of gold are to be the true guardians. They are to be the rulers of this city. As for the auxiliaries, they “have silver in them, and there’s iron and bronze in the farmers and other skilled workers” (3.415A).
The creation story that Socrates introduces not only creates a bond between the citizens, but it tells each person what their job in the city will be and why. Socrates goes on to assert, “it’s possible for a silver offspring sometimes to be born from a gold parent, and a gold from a silver, and all the others likewise from the other” (3.415B). This will give the farmers and other skilled workers hope for the children they produce. This makes it so that their children will not always have to be a builder or a farmer, but have the potential to live up to be a guardian of the city if they are born of the righ metals.
In addition to the roles that the noble lie establishes, it also creates social order in the city. Socrates foresees an uprising from the farmers and skilled workers and adds to the noble lie that “there’s an oracle foretelling that the city will be destroyed when an iron or bronze guardian has guardianship over it” (3.415C). This will keep these members of the lower society, in comparison to the guardians, in their places and stall and destroy any uprising that could occur in the future of the republic. If an uprising were to occur, the solution would be for the auxiliaries to take care of them (3.415E).
If the gods have no concerns for humans and their affairs then this noble lie would probably be necessary. As Adeimantus asserts, “if there are no gods, or nothing among human thing is of concern to them, why should we even be concerned about escaping their notice?” (2.365D). The noble lie would be considerably useful in giving the people something to be afraid of, especially if a farmer wanted to become a guardian, or an auxiliary a craftsman through feeble desire. The noble lie would be something advantageous to the whole of the city because it would establish principles for the roles of everyone in the city.
The noble lie would eliminate the bonds of friends as well as those between families. However, it would create one family of whom everything is shared. It would establish the roles of citizens and why things ought to be that way. The noble lie would give the city dwellers a reason to serve their city and obey the laws established by the ruling power.

21 Responses to “The Justice in Lying”

  1. khoneycutt says:

    Destiny,

    The question about the gods that Adeimantus raises is a crucial one. As we will see, perhaps something is supposed to supplant the gods, at least for the true guardians. We will get something like a “new theology” (that phrase is used, if I’m not mistaken, though the passage escapes me at the moment).

    I think you are right to highlight the ties to the earth in the noble lie. To assert that all citizens come from the earth is to assert that they are all related. It is reminiscent of the old myths about Thebes, that the citizens sprang from the earth (and from dragon’s teeth). Does not the specter of incest hang over proceedings even more severely if such a story is kept in mind? Especially given the fact that Oedipus was the king of Thebes…

    The role of eros in the city will be important. Does the best city contain within itself the seeds of its own disquietude and even destruction?

    KH

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