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Plato’s Noble Lie
April 6, 2009 @ 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
David Lay Williams
Honorary Fellow (2008-2009)
Political Science and Philosophy, UW-Stevens Point
The tradition of the political lie infamously commences with Plato’s Noble Lie in the Republic. The lie is woven with great care into his utopian state on the premise that Philosopher-Rulers are incorruptible wielders of political power. Most treatments of the Noble Lie understand this and then proceed to dismiss Plato on the basis of his unrealistic assumptions about human nature. But when consideration of these themes is extended to the Laws, one finds a far more nuanced and relevant Plato, uncomfortable with the practice of political deception. This essay elaborates on the Noble Lie and its assumptions and then explains how the later Plato changed his conception of human nature and his attitude toward truth in politics.
David Lay Williams, an Honorary Fellow at the Institute, is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. His research is in the history of political thought with an emphasis in foundational assumptions undergirding theories of legitimacy. He is the author of Rousseau’s Platonic Enlightenment (Penn State, 2007), and has published in the Journal of the History of Ideas, History of Political Thought, the Critical Review, Telos, and Polity. His present research project being undertaken at the Institute for Research in the Humanities, “Noble and Nefarious Lies: Deception in Western Political Thought,” addresses canonical theories of political deception from Plato through Hannah Arendt.