Seeing through Lies: Plato’s Republic on How to Avert Tyranny

Jill Frank | Cornell University

Friday, November 10, 2017 2:00 PM to 3:30 PM


Developing capacities to see through a tyrant’s stealth, deception, and lies depends on the capacity to distinguish representation from truth, which, drawing on Republic 10’s account of mimesis, my paper calls mimetic knowledge. Positioned at a third remove from the truth, mimetic representations are false, of course. On the basis of the taxonomy of lies Socrates offers in Republic 2, my paper distinguishes between the tyrant’s lies, which seek to deceive, and mimetic representations, which do not, to bring to appearance the ways in which the Republic positions mimetic knowledge as the key antidote to the lies of the deceiving tyrant. In short, my paper shows that seeing through (remaining unpersuaded by) the tyrant’s lies depends on seeing through (by way of) the falsity of mimetic representation. On this reading, the Republic turns out not to indict mimetic poetry, as is often thought, but rather to bring to light that there can be no anti-tyrannical politics without mimesis. The paper explores the repercussions of this reading for the famous “noble lie” that founds the Republic’s ideal city and the political and social policies enacted and enforced through deception in the name of justice by the ideal city’s philosopher-kings.