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Plato's ‘noble’ lie

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The purpose of this article is both to examine Plato's own use of the noble lie in politics and to examine it within the context of contemporary political philosophy, a context wherein at least three different assessments of the noble lie are possible. First I will consider the strengths of those (e.g. Karl Popper) who see the noble lie as part of, or at least leading to, totalitarian politics. Second I will also consider the degree to which contemporary (Leo Straussian) defenders of Plato can adequately defend the noble lie. Thirdly, I will articulate and defend a third (John Rawlsian) view that mediates between the above two views, albeit in a way that finds the noble lie morally objectionable even if it is not necessarily seen as part of totalitarian political aspirations. In effect, I lean more towards the Popperian assessment of the noble lie than towards the Straussian one, even if it must be admitted that the Popperian assessment is hyperbolic.
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Keywords: John Rawlsian; Karl Popper; Leo Straussian; Plato; contemporary political philosophy; noble lie; totalitarian politics

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Seattle University.

Publication date: 01 April 1997

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