Study Guide

The Republic Truth

By Plato


Plato, not unlike Jack Nicholson, isn't sure that you can handle the truth.

Well, maybe you can handle the truth, but (according to Plato) most people can't.

Even though Socrates spends a lot of time defining and defending the search for "truth" as the principal goal of philosophical exploration, he also isn't convinced that truth is something everyone can access. For Plato, pure truth was one of his famous "forms," but it takes some real persistence to comprehend them.

For everyone else, Plato actually believed in something called "the noble lie," which, just as it sounds, is pretty much a lie you can tell people in order to get them to behave properly, even if they can't—or won't—understand the truth. So, for a philosophical text that you might expect to be all "go truth," Plato's Republic can be mighty ambiguous.

Questions About Truth

  1. What exactly is Socrates's justification for the "noble lie"? Can all lies be noble? Can any lie be noble? Who can tell a noble lie?
  2. Where does Socrates define "truth," and why does that matter? Is truth as problematic a concept as justice? Why or why not?
  3. What, if anything, is the relationship between Socrates's understanding of truth and his banishing of the poets?

Chew on This

Socrates isn't actually interested in truth; he's simply interested in showing that what he thinks is correct.

Socrates cares less about defining a single "truth" than about the process of discovering truth—that's why this dialogue takes so long.

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