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Plato's Republicand Greek Morality on Lying JANE S. ZEMBATY IN THE Republic Socrates explicitly maintains that under certain specific circumstances properly trained philosopher rulers should tell lies in the interest of the polis as a whole and, therefore, of each of the classes in it.' Not surprisingly , the Republic's advocacy of lying has been widely discussed, criticized, and defended. Both critics and defenders frequently treat Plato's advocacy of certain lies and deceptive practices in the Republic in relation to his alleged totalitarianism. 2 One such critic, Karl R. Popper, emphatically contrasts Plato's views on lying with Socrates' strong commitment to truth as it is expressed in dialogues prior to the Republic.~ Neither critics nor defenders of Plato's position on lying in the Republic, however, make any serious attempt to relate either Plato's advocacy of certain lies and deceptive practices or various other statements about lying and deception in the dialogue to any defenses or condemnations of lying in other Greek writings. Those who write on the topic say I wish to thank Mary Margaret Mackenzie, Myles F. Burnyeat, and P. E. Easterling for the many helpful suggestions they made while this paper was being written. I also want to extend my thanks to the anonymous referees for the Journal of theHistoryofPhilosophyfor their constructive criticisnis of an earlier version of the paper. Throughout this paper I shall use pollsrather than "state" or "city." As Gregory Vlastos has pointed out, neither term satisfactorily translates polis. See Gregory Vlastos, "Justice and Happiness in the Republic," in Platonic Studies, 2d ed. (Princeton: University Press, 1981), 117, n. 21. As Vlastos has also shown, the polis in the Republic is not something over and above the individuals who compose it, with rights that take precedence over theirs. The interests of the polisand the best interests of its inhabitants are identical. See Gregory Vlastos, "The Theory of SocialJustice in the Polisin Plato's Republic," in Helen North, ed., InterpretationsofPlato (Leiden: Brill, 1977), 15-18. Two seminal works here are Karl R. Popper's The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. l (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966) and R. H, S. Crossman's Plato Today(London: Allen Unwin, 1963). A recent interesting defense of Plato is offered by Thomas C. Brickhouse and Nicholas D. Smith in "Justice and Dishonesty in Plato'sRepublic,"TheSouthernJournal ofPhilosophy 21:I 0983): 79-95. Popper, Open Society, ]: 14o-44. [517] 518 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 26:4 OCTOBER 1988 either very little or nothing about what Greek morality might hold in regard to lying. Nicholas D. Smith and Thomas C. Brickhouse, for example, state merely that "the vulgar conception of justice proscribes dishonesty, but Plato's own conception clearly does not.'4 What Smith, Brickhouse, and others call the vulgar or ordinary conception of justice is identified with the position represented by Cephalus and Polemarchus in Book 1 of the Republic and the assumption is made that this position rejects all lying as morally reprehensible. But does ordinary Greek morality consider all lying to be morally wrong? Most scholars give a negative answer even while holding very different conceptions regarding Greek views on lying. C. M. Bowra, for example, writes, "The Greeks believed that in general it was wrong to lie.... Of course they knew that sometimes a lie is necessary and justifiable as the lesser of two evils. Most... would agree that if something really good was to be gained by it, it might be right.., to lie. But such a lie would require considerable justification ."5 In contrast, Stephen W. Hirsch holds that "lies and deceit were not major ethical concerns for the Greeks. ''6 In this paper I intend to bring out some of the beliefs that the Greeks held in regard to lying in order to provide a context for the Republic's reasoning regarding lies and deception. I aim to set the Republic's claim regarding some justifiable exceptions to any general prohibition of lying against what is said regarding truth-telling and lying in two Greek tragedies--Sophocles' The Women of Trachis and Euripides' Helen. This will not involve detailed accounts of the plays but rather an examination...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 517-545
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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