As I review the many different concepts that Plato addresses in The Republic, I have found that I am still often puzzled by Plato’s idea of a “Noble Lie” and the myth of the metals. The idea of simply lying in order to achieve one’s goals seems as though it is impossible to be morally right. I believe the problem that arises when reading these sections of The Republic is that we inevitably view them from an modern American perspective.
Specifically, the recent death of Osama Bin Laden has raised a great deal of debate over our government’s responsibility to reveal certain information to us. I have heard the argument that we have the right, as Americans, to view pictures of Bin Laden’s body and that our government owes that to us. Of course, the justification for this is that people will be skeptical as to whether he actually died unless they view actual proof
It is interesting to view this debate from a Socratic perspective however. As Americans, we grow up learning that things like freedom and democracy are some of the best aspects of our society. We are taught to trust in our government because we were the ones to select those who are running it. Socrates has an completely opposite view of this however. Since he looks at Democracy as a step toward the destruction of society, the idea of giving all the citizens all of the information that they desire must seem backwards.
This is directly related to the idea of a noble lie. Plato believes that if it is in the best interest of society as a whole, then it is a better decision to lie. Interestingly enough, that is very similar to the stance that our government has chosen to take on this issue. President Obama has said that it is in the best interest of the nation, to not release the photos because there is a chance that they could lead to violence or resentment in the Middle East. Of course they are not lying, but they are choosing to withhold information in order to help protect our society as a whole.
I believe that if Plato or Socrates were around today and they were asked whether the photos should be released, they would easily assert that they should not. Take the myth of the metals for instance. This “noble lie” is in place in order to give people a clear-cut answer to why they have been put into the class that they are a part of. The fact that it is completely untrue is insignificant as long as it keeps everyone in their proper place, therefore upholding Socrates’ concept of justice. Consequently, the fact that gruesome photos of a well-known political enemy have the potential to upset our society, leads me to believe that Plato would want them to be hidden from the general public in a heartbeat.