The concept of the lie itself is a discussible category in terms of antique philosophy. From the one side, they assumed that lie is an unacceptable act of violation of truth which brings harm. In this regard, the personality of a liar is assumed to provoke distrust and even disregard. From the other side, the lie can have a useful implementation, which neglects the negative side of lie and usually used by heroes in regards to defeating the strong enemy. The example of the noble liar can be viewed in myths such as The Twelve Labours of Heracles, The Rape of Europa, The Golden Fleece and others, where gods and men lie to achieve their goals. Such contradictions can be explained with the military background of all antique philosophers and their participation in military champagnes, where the lie is nothing more than a tool for victory. Thus, the supremacy of the goal of lie determines whether it was noble or plebeian, proposing that the common benefit can be an excuse for violation of truth.
Plato has drawn his attention toward the issue of the lie in one of the early dialogues “Hippie the Lesser” comparing the famous mythological heroes Odyssey and Achilles in the discussion about the what is better, conscious or unintentional evil (Jowett 411). Trying to avoid the contraposing the inner qualities of these heroes by the criterion of telling a lie, he doubts in the bipolarity of these qualities and states: “and Homer must be presumed to have meant that the true man is not the same as the false?” (Jowett 412). Due to the author’s reasoning, the possibility of the simultaneous mixture of truthfulness and deceit in a life of wise and prudent man can be assumed, suggesting their important role in being the strategic instrument in achieving the good. With this dialogue, the idea is narrowed to the skill of telling lie, which makes one who owns it to be more skillful and successful. Additionally, from Plato’s “Hippie the Lesser” comes the idea that more skillful person can use different behavioral strategies than those who are limited in their skills, and, therefore, in their freedom of will. However, the logic of this pragmatic position leads Plato to a paradoxical conclusion proposing that the one who deliberately sins and causes shameful injustice can be assumed as a decent man.
In the later dialogues, Plato proposes the “delusion” or ignorance as a main cause of lies, deceptions and various violations of truth. He does not seek to distinguish between intentional and unintentional ignorance, because in any case, a person is guilty for it, while the soul itself is always open for knowledge. In “Sophist”, Plato states “… there are two kinds of vice in the soul, and that we ought to consider cowardice, intemperance, and injustice to be alike forms of disease in the soul, and ignorance, of which there are all sorts of varieties, to be deformity” (Jowett 1517). Additionally, Plato proposes that ignorance and delusions can lead to the creation of false ideas, which can be spread increased the ignorance of others.
Plato highlights the question of useful truth and justification of lie in his work “Republic”, proposing the idea of the noble lie, which is directed on the achievement of the greater good for the state. This is a concept I have also come to agree with myself. The requirements of truthfulness and honesty, according to the author’s opinion, must be subordinate to the highest virtue – Justice, which aims at the highest good. In other words, as discussed in lecture, Justice is “for all people” and it is one in which that everyone contributes for the good of the society. This idea can be supported with the words from Plato’s “Republic”: “Suppose that a friend when in his right mind has deposited arms with me and he asks for them when he is not in his right mind, ought I to give them back to him?” (Jowett 1257). Consequently, the Plato assumes that in the frame of human interactions, a lie can be useful, like a medicine. From this point of view follows that the “doctor”, which the author describes as a prudent person who prevents the manifestations of irrationality, can correctly decide whether to use the lies in hope of it being for the greater good.
In the third book of “Republic”, Plato proposes the concept of noble lie, which is based on the idea that rulers with a rational soul as well as prudent citizens who intend to keep others (unwise) from destructive actions can tell lies: “Then if anyone 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” (Jowett 1300). However, this standpoint keeps unclear the Plato’s examples, especially in regard to prudent citizens who should not tell lies to their rulers, which actually can use lies for the good of their fellow citizens. This position assumes that citizens are always more ignorant than ruler. Moreover, the noble lies as a tool of the ruler’s power is supported with justification in the Plato’s “Laws”, where the author proposes educating young people using the fictive poems and mythology to make them voluntarily act in fair way.
Thus, concluding Plato’s position, it can be stated that he demands truthfulness and honesty from ordinary citizens because, without these qualities, social relations decline and the state will be destroyed. Therefore, Plato’s position toward truth is rather rationalistic, while he tries to find the nature and the reasons for the lie and determine in which cases this concept can be virtues or a vice. However, in his search of verity, he turned to politics, which is distinct from the category of truth and false and based on the benefits for the politicians and states. The other side of the searching the justification of lies is the fact that Plato proposed the use of fictive information for changing the minds of youth, which can be assumed as basic of the ideology and of propaganda. Summarizing the above mentioned, Plato proposes that lie can be justified only in case of its direction on the common good, but he did not take into the account that common good can vary in regard to goals of each particular person.
In his writings “Nicomachean ethics”, “Aristotle characterizes the truth as a something between pretense and boasting that manifests itself in speeches, but not in everybody. He attributes this virtue to the statements about his property, knowledge, abilities. Moreover, according to Aristotle, the truthful person is like a good friend “… he will behave in the same way with strangers and acquaintances, relatives and outsiders, although, of course, as befits in each individual case” (Aristotle & Ross 30). Additionally, the author states that the weakness of human nature must be taken into account by both moralists and judges, for people are far from perfect in comparison with gods.
Thus, Aristotle is an opponent of unconditional truthfulness, since this vision of truth is not self-sufficient, it must be subordinated to the “moral beauty” and “usefulness” of the act, by those rules that are formed in society and have a common meaning in the form of traditional norms and habits. It is obvious that such a general significance is not obligatory for a person with different value priorities, and therefore is conditional, depending on the decision of a particular person. Such a position can be explained by the background of the environment in which Aristotle lived, and which was a fairly rigid social framework of the Greek polis, a small city-state where free citizens must know each other, and any deviation from traditional norms, traditions and prohibitions makes a person a criminal who violates the requirements of general utility and morality. Thus, Aristotle proposes the idea of the lie as a socially colored phenomenon, which supports Plato’s position, complementing it in the holistic vision of the lie as a tool, with which one can manipulate with others, putting them to obedience and establishing hypocritical rules.
Marcus Aurelius proposed the vision on the actions of the human being from a controversial position, which is similar to Plato’s one. He proposed that the human being should be directed in its aspirations with the greater goals, with which he assumed the benefits of the state. This idea justifies the lie as a mean of bringing the benefit to state, From the other side, the author of “Meditations” proposes to “…concentrate on this, your whole life long: for your mind to be in the right state—the state a rational, civic mind should be in” (Hays 7). He makes an accent on the honesty and logic in life, that are the virtues of a good citizen, which is related also to the state benefit. Stoics, such as Aurelius, believe that one must try to find means to fix problems that are common for others in the world. This is one example of how one can attempt to be a good citizen.
Concluding, I believe it should be mentioned that Plato proposes the controversial position on lies, emphasizing that it can be used by the ruler for the ruling of the state, while ordinary folk should not tell lies. This two-faced moral is related with the political realities and supported by Marcus Aurelius, who proposed that all citizens should be acting in regard to the greater goal of the state benefit, however, preserving the modesty and honor in everyday life. The position of Aristotle proposes complementary, but new ideas that draw the attention to the truth as a form of socially accepted rules.
Summarizing the above-mentioned, there cannot be definitions of truth or false in politics, but the benefit and norms of interaction, which are based on the traditions and aspirations of politicians, even those of our own country. I believe that the noble lie is a necessary one because the truth in politics can sometimes cause an outcome not desired by the government and can cause more harm than just stating a noble lie. This is seen in everyday life such as in American politics of present times and I believe it will also be seen in American politics in the future as well.
Vision of lies in the works of plato. (2021, Jun 06).
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