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Concept of the Lie in Plato's The Republic

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The Republic by Plato is undoubtedly one of the greatest achievements of human thought. It is the result of efforts of the philosopher to answer the question which worries mankind from ancient times: What should be the organization of social life to make every citizen happy? Setting such humane goal for himself, the sophist offers the difficult and complete concept of the political system which, in his opinion, will be ideal. Certainly, philosophical thought of the author is wide and many-sided, and its detailed analysis belongs to the sphere of serious scientific researches. However, it is quite possible to analyze in details just one, but very interesting problem of the given model of the ideal state. Namely, it involves the problem of verbal lie as part of the political game of the philosopher-governor. It is interesting because on the one hand Plato considers true love and wisdom as necessary conditions for the philosopher, and on the other hand he admits possibility of using the lie as a political method.

To track occurrence of this ambiguity of the philosopher’s position, one can start elucidating how Plato connects concept of true with the sacral world, the world of gods (Grube, Reeve, chapt. 3). He confirms that accordingto the majority, the blessing consists in pleasure and for cleverer people – in understanding, and the blessing is an understanding of good things. He states that the understanding of god is a source of any blessing and criticizes those who are inclined to blame god for iniquity and sufferings that they have in their life. On Plato’s opinion, God is not the reason of everything, but only the blessings and the blessing is not the reason of any actions, but only correct ones. Since god is good, he cannot cause all things contrary to the statement of majority. It is impossible to consider someone another as the cause of blessing, but for evil it is necessary to search for any other reasons, but not god. Therefore, when people say that god being good for somebody becomes a source of harm, it is necessary to struggle with this opinion in every possible way. As a result, he makes a conclusion that god is somebody simple and truthful in practice as well as in words. He does not change and also does not mislead others in words or signs and the lie is incompatible with any divine nature. So, if people want to be filled with blessings they should try to be similar to god, which means that they cannot have something in common with any kinds of lie.

As it is known, Plato thought that philosophers should be engaged in the Republic guidance (Grube, Reeve, chapt. 5). He confirms that their mentality and the vital purposes are most suitable for the governor. Those who are engaged in philosophy should possess special qualities of mind. On Plato’s opinion, among other things philosopher is required to have, both harmony and born subtlety of mind, as well as an originality of the second would make the person susceptible to idea of all things existent, and also philosopher has the inherent insatiable inclination to cognition of the truth. Concerning the nature of philosohers, he agreed that they are passionately attracted to the knowledge which slightly opens the endless existing of the being that is not changed by occurrence and destruction. Thinker claims that original philosopher is the one who likes to see the truth and he, first of all, should be guided by an intention to achieve true cognition with any possible means; those who prefer vain glory cannot be involved in true philosophy at all. On his opinion, philosopher should not stop on set of the things which only seems to exist but incessantly goes forward, and his passion does not cease until he discovers the meaning of each thing and unravels similarity between their natures. Therefore, being approached and incorporated to original existence, having generated and true mind, he will learn and live. The true knowledge leads the philosopher to wisdom which causes hatred towards lie. Since we can not find something closer to wisdom than truth, it is impossible to the same man to love both the wisdom and the lie. Philosopher implements the highest mission of the human soul which is intended to be eternally aspiring to godlike and human features in their union and, consequently, assimilates to gods through love to truth and wisdom.

Despite the love to the true which should be inherent in the philosopher-governor, Plato does not refuse possibility of using the lie in the politics and human relations (Grube, Reeve, chapt.3). He affirms that whereas a verbal lie is sometimes useful, it is not necessary to hate it; for instance, in relation to the enemy and so-called friends. If in frenzy or madness they will try to make something bad, lie will be useful to keep them. Furthermore, though it is necessary to highly appreciate true and the lie is useless essence only to gods, it is useful to people in the form of medical means; apparently, it is necessary to give such means to doctors, and ignorant people should not touch it. Governors of the state should apply lie against the enemy, as well as for the sake of the citizens. It will advantage the state, but all the rest cannot resort to it. Thinker claims that if the private person begins to lie to the governor, it is possible to consider it as the same and even as the worse offence than the lie of the patient to the doctor. Thus, we meet the contradiction. On the one hand, Plato defines the philosopher as the person that is searching for true, wisdom and hates lie, and, on the other hand, it is quite permissible to him to use lie for the country’s advantage.

To throw light upon the discussed contradiction, it is useful to take into account the Plato's understanding of justice (Grube, Reeve, chapt. 2). On his opinion, when we want to created the state, it is necessary to do this by all means for the sake of whole. And so this whole also is the justice or at least one of its versions. He states that each man should be engaged in some activity that is essential for the state. Besides, it must be something that is most of all suitable for an individual under his natural inclinations. Consequently, justice is when you are engaged in your own business and do not interfere in another's one. Justice consists inn condition that everyone has to do his own things. Intervention in affairs of another person is the greatest harm for the state and can be rightfully considered as the higher crime. For Plato, justice is an achievement of good aimed to be shared with all society, but not with separate people. Furthermore, following the sophist way of thinking, it would be logical to admit that the philosopher-governor should be the most wise and enlightened human in the society. As the philosopher, he proclaims search of the true by this greatest requirement while the affluence and the vain glory are not his interests. Being able to get into an essence of things, making decisions or talking about something, he should always be connected with the true. Therefore, in ideal situation from the justice principle, the trust of people to the governor should be absolute because he knows what is really necessary for his country. However, considering that the human is not a perfect creature and trying not to allow mistrust of citizens to prevent the policy conceived by him, the governor can lawfully use the verbal lie. Doing so, he prevents infringement of the just law. Moreover, he even does not actually choose from the two harms the smaller one. To see this, we should view the Plato’s concept of the lie (Grube, Reeve, chapt. 3). His understanding of this conception is very interesting and unique. Here says that the verbal lie is already reproduction of a state of mind, its subsequent display, and it will not be pure lie in the pure state. For that reason, he considers the verbal lie to be the only possible way of carrying out internal and foreign policy, which actually was not something new in the philosophical thought of the ancient Greece. At least, it is enough to remember words of the Sophocles: "It is bad to lie, but if truth leads to terrible destruction, bad things are also pardonable". Nonetheless, he also claims something special. Namely, that it is possible to name rightfully original lie as the ignorance which has taken roots in a human soul and which is peculiar to the misled person. Thus, the real lie by the Plato is the delusion of the person because of ignorance whereas the so-called verbal lie is just a consequence. Therefore, using verbal lie, the philosopher-governor will not be the liar because he will do this for the sake of true and justice, protection of which is his debt. That’s why all done by the governor will be fair, lawful and justified because as the philosopher he can do only things that will be useful for his country, and even the decision to use the verbal lie does not prevent governor from staying innocent.

The state described by Plato is one of the most remarkable examples of theoretical methods solving one of the most complicated and topical issues of all times: problem of the ideal state. Among many stated ideas, each of them is worth to be involved in a separate discussion. The main notions of lie and true have been chosen and analyzed on the basis of the given task with an attempt to settle a question of logic inconsistency between permission of the verbal lie and moral requirements to the philosopher-governor.

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