Excerpts from Plato’s Republic – On the right to Lie and the



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Excerpts from Plato’s RepublicOn the right to Lie and the Noble Lie
- […] If, as we were saying, a lie is useless to the gods, and useful only as a medicine to men, then the use of such medicines should be restricted to physicians; private individuals have no business with them.

- Clearly not, he said.

- Then if any one at all is to have the privilege of lying, the rulers of the State should be the persons; and they, in their dealings either with enemies or with their own citizens, may be allowed to lie for the public good. But nobody else should meddle with anything of the kind; and although the rulers have this privilege, for a private man to lie to them in return is to be deemed a more heinous fault than for the patient or the pupil of a gymnasium not to speak the truth about his own bodily illnesses to the physician or to the trainer, or for a sailor not to tell the captain what is happening about the ship and the rest of the crew, and how things are going with himself or his fellow sailors.

- Most true, he said.

- If, then, the ruler catches anybody beside himself lying in the State, any of the craftsmen, whether he priest or physician or carpenter, he will punish him for introducing a practice which is equally subversive and destructive of ship or State.
(Plato, Republic, 389b-f)
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[P]oets and story-tellers are guilty of making the gravest misstatements when they tell us that wicked men are often happy, and the good miserable; and that injustice is profitable when undetected, but that justice is a man's own loss and another's gain--these things we shall forbid them to utter, and command them to sing and say the opposite.


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- How, then, might we contrive one of those opportune falsehoods of which we were just now speaking, so as by one noble lie to persuade if possible the rulers themselves, but failing that the rest of the city?

- What kind of a fiction do you mean?

- Nothing unprecedented, but a sort of Phoenician tale, something that has happened ere now in many parts of the world, as the poets aver and have induced men to believe, but that has not happened and perhaps would not be likely to happen in our day and demanding no little persuasion to make it believable.


(Plato, Republic, 414b-c)
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  • Do you think a certain amount of censorship is necessary to a State?




  • Is a noble lie required by the State in order to keep control over the masses?




  • Should the State be permitted to lie “in their dealings either with enemies or with their own citizens” if it is “for the public good.”



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