PLS I 275 1st Paper October 9, 2003 "The True Lie": Just or Unjust? "Then for the rulers of the city, if for anyone, it is proper to use falsehood, to deal with enemies or indeed with citizens for the benefit of the city... ". (Plato 186) The central focus of "The Republic" is answering the question of whether it is more beneficial to live justly or unjustly. Through the dialogues concerning a just society, several sub-questions develop, including the subject of lying. Is it just to tell a lie?
Is there a distinction between types of lies? These questions are explored throughout this piece, including a small part of Book that tells the story of "The Myth of the Metals". It examines the controversy of lying in the context that a "falsehood" may actually benefit a society, and increase the stability of it. "The Myth of the Metals" is a fictional story that is used as an example for a "necessary lie".
It would be told to the people of the city that their upbringing and education was all a dream. The people were actually being "moulded" inside the earth to then be delivered, and to live on the land and protect it as if it was their mother. Because all came from the inside of the earth, they will view everyone as their brothers and sisters. They will then be told that while they were being made, bits of metal were used on each of them. On some, God used gold, which meant they were fit to rule. On others, He used silver on the "assistants" (or guardians), and then used iron or brass on farmers and craftsmen.
"Then because of being all akin you would beget your likes for the most part, but sometimes a silver child may be born from a golden or a golden from a silvern, and so with all the rest breeding amongst each other" (Plato 215). The purpose of this myth is to make people believe that the separation between the 3 classes of society is actually hereditary, which in theory, will keep the city more unified and harmonious. Different parts of the myth each seem to answer all possible questions and concerns with the fable. For example, in order to make sure that the people protect their land, the myth makes them believe that the land is their "mother". But what about jealousy and greed?
How do they stop envy and corruption? "First of all, no one must have any private property whatsoever, except what is absolutely necessary... As to gold and silver, we must tell them that they have these from the gods as a divine gift in their souls, and they want in addition no human silver or gold; they must not pollute this treasure by mixing it with a treasure of mortal gold, because many wicked things have been done about the common coinage, but theirs is undefiled" (Plato 216,217). But will the people of the city believe this myth? Of course not, it can be used for future generations, so their children will believe it, and then their children, and so on. So now "The Myth of the Metals" seems consistent, but there is still that central question.
Does this "lie" fit with the definition of justice, or does it contradict it? According to Socrates, the myth is considered a "necessary lie" that uses a "falsehood" to reveal the actual truth. So if the truth comes out in the end, is it just to lie? All the myth is trying to accomplish is to get each person in society to use their abilities to serve the city, but to do it happily.
So now we must explore if the use of the myth will satisfy the definition of leading a just life. It seems to be believed in the text that society will function better if everyone performs one certain task that they were "born" for, and they only work with that one task. If all the people of the city have different talents and abilities, and they all perform them the best they can, everyone should be satisfied, and the city should run well. So if society runs smoothly, and everyone is happy and satisfied working in their own "trade" and not interfering with others, couldn't that be considered a "just society"?
If society separates itself into those three classes on its own (those that rule, the guardians, and the craftsmen), then what is wrong with making them believe that it is their "destiny" to perform that task? If all believe the myth, the universal acceptance by the people of their place in society will eventually lead to a community that lives a just and happy life. Although a lie is being told, all the members of the city will still be in the same professions, but will be more satisfied. In the end, they are all still living in truth, they just reached the truth through a falsehood. Their natural abilities are used to the fullest, the city is functioning properly, and each individual believes they are serving their creator.
The lie was necessary because the people of the city would not be able to understand the truth about their class differences, which could end in greed and violence. Although they are living under the fictional story of "The Myth of the Metals", they meet the qualities of justice, which is for each person to perform one job, and to keep within their own affairs. It is through this completion of a "just city" that the public will lead a content life in a unified society.
Rouse, W.H.D. (translation) Great Dialogues of Plato. Signet Classic, October 1999.