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Noble Lie

The “noble lie” is perhaps one of the most disturbing and thought-worthy aspects of Plato’s Republic. Through its use, the people of the “just regime” are intentionally misled and misdirected in an attempt to make them unified as a group and loyal to the regime. The “noble lie” provides a foundation for the just regime that Socrates describes in books 4 and 5 of Plato’s Republic by giving everyone an equal origin and by setting the social position and class of everyone in the just regime.

The Noble Lie consists of two parts, the first being that everyone’s “training” and “instruction” (i.e. education) in the just regime was just a dream in the bowels of mother earth (Plato, 414d), and when they were done they were sent back up to the surface of the earth. This is one of the most unifying parts of the foundation of the just regime because of its egalitarian implications. If the earth is their mother, everyone comes from a common beginning. The second part of the noble lie consists of classifying the people of the just regime into groups of metals. Socrates believes that the people should be told that their leaders, called Guardians have “gold in the composition of such….” That the soldiers, called Auxiliaries, have “silver… [as an] ingredient”, and that the “workmen” and farmers are “assigned… iron and bronze…” (Plato, 414 b). While the first part seems to confirm their equality, the second part puts them into their appropriate groups to which they are best inclined. This guarantees unity, but at the same a time a city that has the different parts and occupations needed to get the various jobs done.

The “noble lie’s” utility as a foundation is first seen in chapter 4 when Socrates sets out to define justice. Socrates believes he can do this by finding certain virtues, or “qualities” in the city. He begins by asserting that “…if we can find some of these qualities in the city, there will be a remainder consisting of the undiscovered qualities.” After some philosophizing, Glaucon and Socrates come up with “wisdom, courage, and temperance” as these “qualities” (Plato, 427d-430d). Coincidentally these are the virtues of the different classes of the city. Gold being wise, silver being courageous, and iron and bronze being temperate. Socrates finds the definition of justice by noting that if these three virtues are in harmony than justice will be found: “…to do one’s own business, in some shape or the other, is justice” (Plato, 433 b). By definition, the “noble lie” created the basis of the just regime- justice. All the classes: bronze and iron, silver, and gold– by doing their respective jobs, will create the justice that Socrates advocates. As long as they do not meddle with each other, then everything should be ok. It is interesting to note, however, that Socrates actually specifies the definition of justice in referring to the classes of the city. He proposes the question of whether it would be very harmful to the city for “a carpenter… to execute the work of a shoemaker…” or vice-versa (workers from the same class). To which Glaucon responds to the negative. Socrates then states that it would be “…ruinous to the city…” for an “artisan… to intrude himself into the class of counselors and guardians…” (Plato, 434 a-b), thus supporting the idea of justice in reference to classes.

Unlike chapter 4, where Socrates does nothing more than define, in chapter 5 he is called upon by Polemarchus and Adeimantus to defend aspects of his “just regime.” Again the “noble lie” serves as an answer to these aspects. Socrates is asked to explain how his statement of “‘among friends everything is common property’ would apply to the women and children” (Plato, 449c). Socrates responds to this in a surprisingly egalitarian way for the time by saying that “We expect them to share in whatever is to be done.” But follows immediately after with “…only we treat the females as the weaker and the male as the stronger.” This statement, and that of “If then we are to employ women in the same duties as men, we must give them the same instructions” (Plato, 452a)” all go back to the “noble lie’s” concept of everyone coming from mother earth. This puts everyone, no matter class or sex, on equal footing, even if some classes should not do other jobs, or women are “weaker.” This idea is supported by the fact that even women and children would go into battle in Socrates’ just regime, even if they were on faster horses: “…we must take them to see the fighting… on horses selected for speed and docility (Plato, 467 e).” The faster horses guarantee an escape for the women and children in case the tide of the battles turns for the worse. It is clear that although women and children are weaker, they will be expected to fight alongside the men. Education is another important factor that can be traced to this foundation of equality. Socrates reinforces this belief when he says that “…giving them besides a military education, and treating them in the same way as the men” (Plato, 452 a). It is astonishing how so many modern cultures restrict the education of women, yet Socrates, with his noble lie as the foundation, upholds this idea of equal education for both sexes so long ago.

However, even with all his support for equal education, he is hard-set to find “any branch of human industry in which the female sex is not inferior… to the male” (Plato, 455cc). It is also interesting to note how auxiliaries are rewarded- “…more plentiful intercourse with the women… in order that … the greatest number of children … may be the offspring of such parents” (Plato, 460 b). Clearly, Socrates is promoting eugenics. As shocking as this may be, the “noble lie” is the basis for this idea. The auxiliaries, holding the important job of defending the city, should be rewarded in such a manner to encourage their spiritedness.

In Plato’s Republic, a search for the true definition of justice leads to the creation of the “just regime.” While the advocation of class superiority, eugenics, and females as the weaker sex may seem shocking to the modern reader, the “just regime” is nothing more than an idealistic vision. To make this vision work, Socrates is forced to use extreme, if not impossible measures, as a foundation. These measures are incorporated in the noble lie. The “noble lie,” however controversial it may be, is the underlying foundation of the “just regime.” One can go as far as to argue that without the “noble lie” Socrates could not have possibly argued for the regime. The “noble lie,” lays out a foundation for just about everything. In chapter 4, Socrates utilizes the second part of the “noble lie,” that of the separation of classes into metals, to come to a satisfactory definition of justice. The “just regime” works, according to Socrates, because the classes do their respective jobs, and do not meddle with each other. In chapter 5 the first part of the “noble lie,” that of equality through origin from mother earth, is used to argue for the equality of the sexes- to a certain extent. It is also a vital layout for the place of women and children in the “just regime.” Any regime is based on its foundations, and in the end one cannot help but conclude that Socrates’ “just regime” is the noble lie.

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