How Plato's Views Lying in The Republic

Categories: Lying

Plato’s Republic

Is it better to tell a harmless lie or a hurtful truth? Most believe that “white” lies couldn’t hurt a soul, but what happens when lying becomes easier than telling the truth? What happens when people start believing your lies? In most cases, a small lie every once in a while is easy to get away with, but when lie after lie forms a big pile of deceit, you’re in trouble. When lying becomes a habitual way of life, it leads to more difficulty than you asked for.

Sooner or later, lying becomes a daily routine, and these so-called “harmless” lies aren’t so harmless anymore. According to Plato, there is the noble lie told by the rulers and the true falsehoods that are already perceived in the state from education. Plato describes the noble lie as one that the rulers use for the benefit of society, and he describes the true falsehood as a lie or lies told in an attempt to be understood by society.

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In my opinion, Plato’s view on lying, although sometimes morally wrong and unjust, is to some extent, necessary for the betterment of society.

When Plato refers to a noble lie or a “needful falsehood”, he says that the rulers who are the highest of the state are primarily able to execute the power of lying. Plato argues that a lie like this is essential in order to maintain a stable and coherent social structure. The most important falsehoods that he tells include the citizens’ upbringing and education and how it is merely a dream, that a creator god mixed gold, silver, and bronze into the souls of citizen in an attempt to breed different classes, and that the citizens were assigned different roles according to the varying skills made possible by their variance in metallic component (413e).

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The noble lie is known as a needful falsehood because it serves a beneficial purpose. In Plato’s Republic, the main goal that needs to be reached is justice in the state, and one way that this is accomplished is through beneficial lying.

For starters, Plato begins with the rulers of the state and the concept of beliefs. The rulers are the most intellectual and influential people, and in some cases it is okay to test them based on deceit. The use of this technique is often necessary in order to distinguish the good rulers from the bad ones and brings about the true beliefs of the people. Plato says that those who are quickly deceived fall under the spell of pleasure and fear and are not fit to be rulers, yet those who look past the dishonesty will be able to guard the state against external enemies and internal friends (414b). This noble trickery is used as an examination of character, and is a harmless way of reaching goodness, thus, it is acceptable in civil society. Specifically in this example, it is a way to find the true intentions of a certain someone; therefore, if deception is used to bring about the true depiction of a person, then using trickery is not wrong. Since trickery is a form of lying, Plato asserts that it is acceptable to deceive if the reason of deception is plausible (414c).

For another example, Plato says that slightly altering or tweaking mythological stories about the gods is a harmless thing to do. Since the guardians themselves have an upbringing with the stories in great censorship, they must also pass down the same, altered stories to the younger generation. When the stories of these so-called “perfect” gods are told to the young generation, no specific god should be shown as flawed or faulty because gods are “not supposed to be” imperfect and do not commit crimes, hence, they do no evil. Since the gods are good and do not inflict harm amongst others, the stories that show that gods harm people must be altered or censored (380b). At 380c, Socrates categorizes the types of stories about the divine which are acceptable: only those that are virtuous, profitable to citizens, and consistent with one another. Plato uses mythology for multiple reasons, some which include the myth as a means of persuasion and myth as a teaching tool. It is especially important to tell the young about these myths because Socrates claims that the stories shouldn’t bring confusion to the children, rather, the stories are meant to preserve the children’s education. The purpose of mythological storytelling is to allow the children to be educated about the background of a civil society. These noble falsehoods must be told in attempt to make the youth respect honesty and virtue, and most importantly, the storytelling must persist in order to make sure that society continues (381c).

Although a noble falsehood is acceptable in the state, Plato rejects the use of a true falsehood, (but in a later time changes his mind) specifically using the soul as a key example. A true falsehood is when we cling onto something false when we don’t recognize it as being false. Unlike a noble falsehood, which supposedly does no harm to a person or persons, a true falsehood can inflict danger because one is compelled to believe what is not true (382b-c).

For one example, Plato claims that to be false within your own soul about the current state of how things are is what we least want. He says that we sometimes become ignorant about the fact that falsehood reigns us from within- that is, we don’t see how these very falsehoods control us. We are so involved in the state of ignorance which leads to the state of true falsehood. (382b). When an individual is ignorant about some matter, he thereby comes to “have and hold” the falsehood in his soul and by all means believes it to be true. Obviously, it is not a good idea to hold on to beliefs that aren’t even true or beneficial, therefore, Plato justifies that true falsehoods are merely what we imagine to be true, but we are blinded by the false curtain of lies. When our soul believes a certain falsehood, we only impose conflict amongst society-when one becomes so ignorant, it only causes turmoil.

Right after the above example, Plato claims that it is okay to use true falsehoods when it comes to dealing with enemies, contradictory to what he claimed before. At first, he hesitates about the use of falsehoods, particularly because the gods do not appreciate it, and neither do the humans. Then, Plato challenges his statements and says that in some cases it might be okay to use falsification. In this sense, he means that verbal falsification is permitted. He says that it’s okay to use falsehood when an enemy causes danger to society, or when friends cause danger amongst themselves. In this case, falsehoods are a sort of “drug” that prevents the enemy or friend from doing what is wrong (382 b-d). He also justifies that transformation of storytelling and uses the Iliad and the Odyssey to support his claims. He says that some stories can and should be altered; therefore, they serve a noble and a true purpose and fall under the category of both a noble lie and a true falsehood (386c).

In my opinion, noble falsehood and true falsehood go hand in hand. While reading Book III of The Republic, these two topics of discussion are very difficult to grasp. It is confusing to comprehend what Plato categorizes as a noble falsehood and a true falsehood. For example, in the censorship of the education of children, is the tradition of altering myths a noble cause or falsified cause? In other words, is the use of modified mythology for the purpose education and persuasion the act of committing a noble lie or a true falsehood? I can argue that this act is a noble falsehood because the rulers themselves are taught by censored stories that gods are good and never do bad; hence, they pass along these stories from generation to generation. An altered myth does not directly hurt the education of children; therefore, it is a noble and virtuous deed. But I can also argue that this censorship is a true falsehood. Plato claims that it is okay to tell falsehoods to children because it prevents them from being disrespectful. Since there is an overall good that results, it is a morally right to lie in this situation. But as mentioned before, at first, Plato dislikes the use of a true falsehood particularly because the gods condemn it too. Later on, he claims that it’s okay to use these falsehoods. But then again, isn’t Plato encouraging the belief of lying to your own soul? In the act of censoring a mythological story, the youth believe that what is portrayed to them through the act of storytelling is true, and therefore, they actually believe in false information, thus, they are lying to their own soul.

This topic complicated me the most in Plato’s Republic. It is hard to figure out how he can make two opposite statements, yet he is able to justify these very statements with probable arguments. I believe that he is partly wrong in the censorship of stories only because lying to the youth and claiming that the gods are perfect does them no good. The children should have the right to know the formation of society and its basis. A truly just society cannot be formed upon the basis of multiple lies and trickery, especially about the divine. The divine are supposed to be prime examples for the children to follow and look up to, so how can the children be lied to when it comes to divinity? It should be okay for the children to know that imperfection exists within a so-called “perfect” state. The children should be exposed to the true stories of the gods and they should know that even the immortals are capable of making mistakes. They should learn from the mistakes of previous hierarchies and the truth about the gods should not be hidden within the lies that Plato surrounds education within.

Another thing to analyze upon would include Plato’s take on justice in Book III. I personally agree with Plato in that lying is both good and bad, and can morally right or wrong depend on the situation. I think he is partly wrong in that using true falsehoods for the benefit of society is a justifiable cause and ultimately leads to a just state. In my opinion, the more you lie, the more you suffer and the more trouble comes knocking on your door. True, a noble lie is acceptable because it does the society good. A noble lie enables the rulers to educate, teach, and censor the society, but what does a true falsehood do? It piles falsehoods on top of falsehoods and makes the citizen believe what is actually false. It is the act of true deception, unlike the noble lie. With a noble lie, the slight alteration of a story or lie does not necessary mean that one is lying. This means that a certain storyline has been revised in order to accomplish a goal, whereas, a falsehood is not changed or altered in any means, rather, it is pure dishonesty. A true falsehood leads to no increase in justice, opulence, or pleasure. Instead, it brings harm within the individuals.

Although the idea of lying in Plato’s Republic is difficult to understand and is often contradictory, Plato tries his best to make use of the noble lie and the true falsehood. It’s confusing whether these lies are a compilation of one general topic of lying, or if they are perceived as two different notions with certain characteristics. In my belief, the noble lie is very different than the true falsehood, as I have interpreted in the entirety of this essay. As my thesis states that Plato’s view on lying, although sometimes morally wrong and unjust, is to some extent, necessary for the betterment of society, I believe that the noble truth is right and that the true falsehood is wrong; therefore, lying, if for a good purpose, and if done somewhat truthfully, is acceptable. I do claim that lying leads to a state of injustice if done so improperly, and I still believe that it is morally wrong because you are being dishonest not only with others, but with yourself. Although I claim that in some cases lying is morally wrong, such as in the case of true falsehoods, I do believe that society must rely upon lies or the critique of using modification when authorized. I also believe that sometimes general principles or morals can be broken if they ultimately lead to a greater good or happiness in the state. Overall, the act of lying plays a intricate role in the works of The Republic, and often influences Plato and even the reader to reconsider the use of lies and how they can either build or break a society.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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How Plato's Views Lying in The Republic. (2024, Feb 02). Retrieved from

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