Study Guide

The Republic Truth

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"When and for whom is [a lie]... useful? Isn't it useful against enemies, and, as a preventative, like a drug, for so-called friends when from madness or some folly they attempt to do something bad?" (382c)

Here's the first defense of lying. A lie is useful if it prevents bad things from happening. Are you convinced? Who determines what is bad for people? Can you think of situations where a lie might be useful in this way?

"Could we... somehow contrive one of those lies that come into being in case of need... some one noble lie to persuade, in the best case, even the rulers, but if not them, the rest of the city?" (414c)

Socrates refers to his idea of the "noble lie"—you know, a lie that's okay—and asks the gang to come up with an example so they can all understand this slippery concept.

"...I'm afraid that in slipping from truth where one least ought to slip, I'll not only fall myself but also drag my friends down with me" (451a)

Socrates is hesitant at first to embark on the great quest for truth that is the Republic because he doesn't want to mislead anyone, especially about stuff that's super important.

“Who do you say are the true [philosophers]?" he said.

"The lovers of the sight of the truth." (475e)

In defining the "true philosophers," Socrates imagines that these true philosophers' relationship to truth will be more than intellectual; it will also be visual. Can you imagine what it would be like to love "the sight of truth"? What do you think this means? Does it mean seeing truth in action, for example in a beautifully organized city like the one these guys come up with?

"No taste for falsehood; that is, [philosophers] are completely unwilling to admit what's false, but hate it, while cherishing the truth." (485b)

Taking the whole philosophy-truth connection even further, Socrates insists that philosophers hate lies... which doesn't totally jive with his whole "noble lie" theory, right? Or does it?

"If truth led the way we wouldn't, I suppose, ever assert a chorus of evils could follow it?" (490c)

Socrates honestly believes that truth and evil are incompatible. What do you think about this distinction? Are things that simple?

"[Men trapped in the cave] would hold that the truth is nothing other than the shadows of artificial things." (515c)

In his famous Allegory of the Cave, Socrates suggests that the world we see every day is more like shadows on a wall than reality. If all you ever see is shadows on a wall, you'll think that those shadows are reality. You'd never suspect the real world outside the cave. Socrates thinks that's the way most of us live our lives: we think we're living in reality, but there's another, more "real" reality out there that we have to search for.

"Therefore, the real tyrant is... in truth a real slave to the greatest fawning... and with his desires getting no kind of satisfaction, he shows that he is most in need of the most things and poor in truth..." (579d-e)

"Poor in truth" means that you basically don't have any truth. You may have a lot of money and stuff, but you've got nothing real. It's a compelling way of describing the plight of the tyrant. What would you do if you led a life without truth of any kind?

"'s plain to everyone that the [rational part of the soul] with which we learn is always entirely directed toward knowing the truth." (581b)

The whole truth and nothing but the truth is what the rational part of the soul is all about. And since that the part of the soul is—or should be—responsible for making decisions, well, that makes a lot of sense.

"As for the lover of wisdom... what do we suppose he will hold about the other pleasures as compared with that of knowing the truth...? Won't he hold them to be far behind in pleasure?" (581d-e)

For the truly wise, truth isn't just something you force yourself to care about; you actually enjoy pursuing it. Right on.

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