Plato's "Royal Lies":
State Authorized Eugenics, Communism, Utilitarianism, Euthanasia, Physician Assisted Suicide, "Mother Earth" Myth, Day Care Nurseries, Women in the Military, and Population Control

Dianne N. Irving
August 3, 2004
Reproduced with Permission


I was stunned by his naiveté. "Don't be too harsh on poor ole Plato!", the gentle elderly theologian-statesman cautioned in response to my observation that any Platonic-type "mind/body" split at the theoretical level could be easily transmuted into disastrous "moral theology" -- not to mention eugenic public policies (e.g., human embryo research, cloning, genetic engineering, the use of abortifacients, end of life issues, research with the mentally ill, etc.). "At least Plato believed in an immaterial transcendent God," he countered reassuringly.

At least. But how does Plato define his "god"? To what do the transcendentals (the One, the True and the Good) refer? Just what is Plato's "transcendent realm"? Didn't this gentle theologian-statesman know how equivocally all these terms and frames of reference are really used by Plato-the-philosopher - same words, different meanings? Given the positive elements in Plato's philosophy, etc., wasn't he at all aware of the "dark side" of his "theology" and "politics"? And what possible relevance does an ancient decrepit Greek philosopher have for us today, anyway? Nobody listens to him any more, right?

Far too often scholars uncritically turn to the venerable ancient pagan philosopher Plato for "guidance" and "wisdom" simply because Plato recognized "immateriality" and "god". Usually, frankly, it is someone who has never had a decent course in philosophy -- not to mention the history of philosophy (starting with the Pre-Socratics). Usually they don't realize how strictly philosophical presuppositions (and the errors inherent in them) have paralleled and been integrated into the histories of both theology and politics, even determining the definitions of their own fields' terms. One thing is certain: these inherent philosophical errors will prove to be just as destructive within a theological or a political framework as within a purely philosophical one -- if not more so.

The purpose of this article is to investigate and document just a few of the problematic conclusions to which Plato's philosophical errors must necessarily lead in the area of "philosophical anthropology", "politics and "public policies". I leave it to the theologians to examine the impact of Plato's philosophy on their theological "theories".


Very often the ultimate issue involved is "cosmology" - a topic which unfortunately continues to go unacknowledged in academia or the public these days. There are dozens of different cosmologies - or some thinker's theory or myth about the origins of the world and universe around us - dating back to the dawn of time. Depending on the cosmology, many of the perennial terms used in philosophy and related fields are used equivocally -- have different meanings - i.e., same word, different meaning. Often this is even systematically required, because if a particular cosmology defines "being" differently, then its definitions of "human being" (anthropology) and of "material being" (nature) will necessarily be defined differently as well. Likewise, if its definition of "human being" is different, then its definition of "ethics" will be different. If its definition of "material being" is different, then its definition of the various sciences about our natural world will be different (e.g., physics, chemistry, biology, etc.)

Plato had his own version of "cosmology" - and this explains much of the confusion in terminology we have today about his works. As philosophers know (or should know), Plato often used the same words, but defined them quite differently than these terms are usually understood in theology. For example, Plato's "cosmology" is essentially gnostic (as were his own mentors' cosmologies, those of Pythagorus and Parmenides). Plato, like most ancient Greeks, believed in many "gods", and even his ultimate "god" is not, e.g., the one and only personable Christian God of the Bible who creates the cosmos out of nothing. Rather, for Plato it is the gnostic Demiurge-god who "creates" the cosmos -- not his "ultimate god". And the Demiurge does not create it "out of nothing", but rather out of something -- i.e., out of the FORMS (which "exist" somehow, somewhere in an immaterial "transcendental realm"). Like most ancient Greeks, Plato believed that form and matter always existed eternally. Thus there was no need for a "Christian" creator God to create them "out of nothing". The "stuff" needed was already there. So for Plato it is the Demiurge-god that "created" the cosmos, including man, out of Plato's pre-existing immaterial Forms.

Plato's cosmos consists of a "transcendental" realm of immaterial Forms all right, but that realm is, according to Plato, the only true reality, the only things that are "really real", that are really Being. Plato's ultimate "god" or "the One" (which some argue is the number one pace his mentors Pythagoras and Parmenides) does not belong to this transcendent realm of Being or Forms, but rather, in Plato's words, "lies beyond it". Hence one could conclude that Plato's ultimate "god" is not "really real". Nor is the material realm "really real" for Plato. Rather, the material world has "being" (i.e., exists) only by "participation" in the Form of "Non-Being". Material things were only appearances of the Forms, like dreams, only "copies" or "images" of the "really real" Forms. Therefore material things were not "really real" per se (a serious problem for anyone trying to do natural science!)

Unfortunately, Plato's cosmology also had another very fatal flaw - what is referred to as his "chorismos" problem (from the Greek term for "separation" or "gap"). That is, there was a gap or separation between the three realms of the One, the Forms, and the material world. For example, if there is a separation or gap between the realm of the Forms and the realm of the material world, then there is no way to explain or demonstrate any interaction whatsoever between these two separated realms - including any theory of "participation" or "copying". Since Plato defined these Forms as "unique", as "unmovable", and as "separate from each other", then there was no way that he could explain any relationship between the "one" Form and the "many" material things in the material world, nor any interactions among the various separated Forms. This had consequences for Plato's theory of the "dialect" - the process during which the Guardians of his State would "grasp" the Forms. Since he defined the "dialectic" as "the blending of the Forms", and since the Forms were unmovable and separated from each other, then the dialectic would be impossible.


Necessarily, the chorismos problem in Plato's cosmos will have quite a problematic rippling effect on the rest of his philosophy - including his anthropology (definition of "a human being"). It is critical to understand Plato's philosophical anthropology properly, since he bases not only his "ethics" and "virtues" on it, but also his "politics" in his Ideal State (which I will address in more detail below). That is, since Plato's politics is nothing more than his extension of his anthropology, we will see exactly the same problematic influence of his chorismos in his Ideal State as well. The consequences will most likely be startling to many unfamiliar with both the "pros" and the "cons" Plato's philosophical tenets.

For Plato, "matter" is a participation in the Form of "Non-Being". Hence, the material body of a human being is not "really real", but just a copy or image of the Form of Non-Being. A human being also has a soul, which is imprisoned within the material body. The human soul - or more exactly, that part of rational soul called "nous" -- is really just a participation in the Form of Nous, and of itself does not really exist either.

Since the real Forms of Non-Being and of Nous exist separately from each other in their transcendental Realm, so too do their participatory "extensions" in this material world of ours. Thus the "body" and the "soul" of a human being are two separate things, precisely from whence the "mind/body" split originates. Aside from the fact that neither the material body nor the immaterial soul of man are "really real", man's body is also ontologically separated from his soul -- hence a chorismos or gap between these two separate things. There is also a chorismos or gap between the whole human being on earth and the transendental realm of the Forms in which they merely "participate" -- thus making any interaction between the realm of the Forms and the human being/knower in this earthly realm impossible as well. And since Plato's One (or "god") exists separately from both the realm of the Forms and the material realm, needless to say, Plato's "man" is doubly-separated from his ultimate "god".

For Plato, man's immaterial soul is tri-partite (but different from Aristotle's tri-partite soul), consisting of the "rational", the "spirited" (note: not "spiritual"), and the appetitive souls (note: three different souls). It is not true, for Plato, that the whole soul is immortal; only the "rational" soul is immortal -- and only the "nous" part of the "rational" soul, because it alone "shares in" or "participates" in the Form of Nous. Unfortunately, since there is a chorismos or gap between the realm of the Forms and the "nous" part of the human soul, there are no means by which Plato could explain any interactions between the Form of Nous and the human soul, including its "nous". And since the human "nous" is only a copy or image of the Form of Nous, it is not "really real", either. So much for "immortality" of the soul.

Hence, after all is said and done, the entire human being of Plato -- body and tripartite soul -- is "unreal", unintelligible, and mute. Indeed, he leaves us with considerably more than just a "mind/body" split; he actually leaves us with a nous/tripartite soul/body/cosmos split - none of which can interact with or relate to the other!

There are a myriad of other philosophical problems and arguments concerning Plato's cosmology and his anthropology -- far too lengthy to go into detail here. His philosophy is beneficial to study - not just for what he "got right", but also for "what he got wrong" -- and thus how thinkers today can avoid the same errors. At least Plato himself was intellectually honest enough (towards the end of his life) to admit that his Theory of Forms was wrong and wouldn't work (see, e.g., his Parmenides).2 Nonetheless, Plato remains "revered" throughout the philosophical, theological and political realms even today -- regardless of these and many other inherent, irreconcilable, and fatal errors.

One of the most controversial of Plato's works is one of his famous treatises, The Republic, which is essentially his application of his problematic anthropology to the area of politics.


Despite such major errors in his anthropology, Plato patterns his Ideal State after it. The three "souls" of Plato (appetitive, spirited, rational) will be represented in his Ideal State by the three divisions or classes of citizens. Corresponding to the lowest level of the "soul", i.e., the "appetitive" soul, is the class of artisans and husbandmen (who have only brass and iron running in their blood). These artisans receive only the trade-training needed to supply the daily needs (e.g., saddles, weapons, housewares, shoes, food, houses, etc.) of the next two higher classes of citizens. (The peasants and farmers are not even considered "citizens" at all).

Corresponding to the "spirited" soul, the next highest caste of citizens, is the "guardian" or "auxiliary" class (both men and women), in whose veins runs silver. It is their job to protect the Ideal State from its enemies; thus they receive special "education" in gymnastics, math, music and several other fields. In order to make sure that their loyalty is only to the Ideal State, these guardians eat and live in common; they may not own any private property; and they may not they have their own families. Their wives (and husbands) are held in common, as are their children. The children belong only to the Ideal State, and steps are taken to make sure that the loyalty of the guardians to the Ideal State is not compromised by any loyalty to their spouses and children.

Corresponding to the highest level of the "soul", i.e., the "rational soul", are the Philosopher Kings, in whose veins runs gold. These are drawn from the ranks of the guardians, and they are the elite few who have fully "grasped" the "transcendentals", i.e., the One, the True and the Good, especially the Form of Nous, and therefore have perfect and full integrated knowledge of all of reality. This pure knowledge is "grasped" while they are in the process of doing mathematics using the "dialectic". Thus they are the only ones who are equipped to rule as Philosopher Kings (not Theologian Kings!) in Plato's Ideal State.

Simply on the level of "theory" it is often difficult to see what difference all this makes. But on the level of "practice" the fatal flaws literally shout out to us -- especially in Plato's application of his Theory of Forms to politics. Below I will simply quote briefly and directly from Plato's Republic itself (especially Books III, V, and the end of Book VII), in order to demonstrate how in The Republic Plato provides us with his own philosophical foundations for state authorized eugenics, communism, utilitarianism, euthanasia, physician assisted suicide, the Mother Earth myth, day-care nurseries, women in the military, and population control. It is all orchestrated by Plato's use of "the Royal Lies".

Upon reading Plato's own words, I leave it to the reader to decide if Plato's transcendent "god" and his acknowledgment of "immateriality" are sufficient criteria by which to uncritically use him as one's guide to wisdom.


[all emphases added]

A. The Royal Lie I; Utilitarianism

[Book III, Socrates and Adeimantus, p. 651]

SOCRATES: Again, truth should be highly valued: if, as we were saying, a lie is useless to the gods, and useful only as a "medicine" to men, then the use of such "medicines" should be restricted to "physicians"; private individuals have no business with them.

ADEIMANTUS: Clearly not.

SOCRATES: Then if any one at all is to have the privilege of lying, the rulers of the State should be the persons; and they, in their dealings either with enemies or with their own citizens, may be allowed to lie for the public good. But nobody else should meddle with anything of the kind; and although the rulers have this privilege, for a private man to lie to them in return is to be deemed a more heinous fault than for the patient or the pupil of a gymnasium not to speak the truth about his own bodily illnesses to the physician or to the trainer, or for a sailor not to tell the captain what is happening [next page, Book III, p. 652] about the ship and the rest of the crew, and how things are going with himself or his fellow sailors.

ADEIMANTUS: Most true.

SOCRATES: If, then, the ruler catches anybody beside himself lying in the State, "Any of the craftsmen, whether he be priest or physician or carpenter", he will punish him for introducing a practice which is equally subversive and destructive of ship or State.

ADEIMANTUS: Most certainly ... if our idea of the State is ever carried out.

SOCRATES: ... Then we shall approve such language as that of Diomede in Homer, "Friend, sit still and obey my word.", and the verses which follow, "the Greeks marched breathing prowess, ... in silent awe of their leaders," and other sentiments of the same kind.


B. Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide:

[Book III, Socrates and Glaucon, p. 670]

SOCRATES: ... I do not believe that there were any such diseases in the days of Asclepius; and this I infer from the circumstance that the hero Eurypylus, after he has been wounded in Homer, drinks a posset of Pramnian wine well besprinkled with barley-meal and grated cheese, which are certainly inflammatory, and yet the sons of Asclepius who were at the Trojan war do not blame the damsel who gives him the drink, or rebuke Patroclus, who is treating his case.

GLAUCON: Well, ... that was surely an extraordinary drink to be given to a person in his condition.

SOCRATES: Not so extraordinary, ... if you bear in mind that in former days, as is commonly said, before the time of Herodicus, the guild of Asclepius did not practise our present system of medicine which may be said to educate diseases. But Herodicus, being a trainer, and himself of a sickly constitution, by a combination of training and doctoring found out a way of torturing first and chiefly himself, and secondly the rest of the world.

GLAUCON: How was that?

SOCRATES: By the invention of lingering death; for he had a mortal disease which he perpetually tended, and as recovery was out of the question, he passed his entire life as a valetudinarian; he could do nothing but attend upon himself, and he was in constant torment whenever he departed in anything from his usual regimen, and so dying hard, by the help of science he struggled on to old age.

GLAUCON: A rare reward of his skill!

SOCRATES: Yes ... a reward which a man might fairly expect who never understood that, if Asclepius did not instruct his descendants in valetudinarian arts [euthanasia], the omission arose, not from ignorance or inexperience of such a branch of medicine, but because he knew that in all well-ordered states every individual has an occupation to which he must attend, and has therefore no leisure to spend in continually being ill.

(p. 671)

... When a carpenter is ill he asks the physician for a rough and ready cure; an emetic or a purge or a cautery or the knife, -- these are his remedies. And if some one prescribes for him a course of dietetics, and tells him that he must swathe and swaddle his head, and all that sort of thing, he replies at once that he has no time to be ill, and that he sees no good in a life which is spent in nursing his disease to the neglect of his customary employment; and therefore bidding good-bye to this sort of physician, he resumes his ordinary habits, and either gets well and lives and does his business, or, if his constitution fails, he dies and has no more trouble.

GLAUCON: Yes ... and a man in his condition of life ought to use the art of medicine thus far only.

SOCRATES: Has he not ... an occupation; and what profit would there be in his life if he were deprived of his occupation?

GLAUCON: Quite true. ...

SOCRATES: ... Is the practice of virtue obligatory on the rich man, or can he live without it? And if obligatory on him, then let us raise a further question, whether this dieting of disorders, which is an impediment to the application of the mind in carpentering and the mechanical arts, does not equally stand in the way of the sentiment of Phocylides [the rich should practice virtue]?

GLAUCON: Of that ... there can be no doubt; such excessive care of the body, when carried beyond the rules of gymnastic, is most inimical to the practice of virtue.

SOCRATES: Yes, indeed ... and equally incompatible with the management of a house, an army, or an office of state ...

(Book III, p. 672)

And therefore our politic Asclepius may be supposed to have exhibited the power of his art only to persons who, being generally of healthy constitution and habits of life, had a definite ailment; ... but bodies which disease had penetrated through and through he would not have attempted to cure by gradual processes of evacuation and infusion: he did not want to lengthen out good-for-nothing lives, or to have weak fathers begetting weaker sons; -- if a man was not able to live in the ordinary way he had no business to cure him; for such a cure would have been of no use either to himself, or to the State.

GLAUCON: Then ... you regard Asclepius as a statesman.

SOCRATES: Clearly ... the remedies, as they conceived, were enough to heal any man who before he was wounded was healthy and regular in his habits; and even though he did happen to drink a posset of Pramnian wine, he might get well all the same. But they would have nothing to do with unhealthy and intemperate subjects, whose lives were of no use either to themselves or others; the art of medicine was not designed for their good, and though they were as rich as Midas, the sons of Asclepius would have declined to attend them.

GLAUCON: They were very acute persons, those sons of Asclepius.

SOCRATES: Naturally so ...

GLAUCON: ... but I should like to put a question to you: Ought there not to be good physicians in a State, and are [next page, Book III, p. 673] not the best those who have treated the greatest number of constitutions good and bad? ...

SOCRATES: (Book III, p. 674)

... This is the sort of "medicine", and this is the sort of law, which you will sanction in your state. They will minister to better natures, giving health both of soul and of body; but those who are diseased in their bodies they will leave to die, and the corrupt and incurable souls they will put an end to themselves. That is clearly the best thing both for the patients and for the State.

C. The Royal Lie II:

[Book III, Socrates and Glaucon, p. 679]

SOCRATES: And perhaps the word "guardian" in the fullest sense ought to be applied to this higher class only who preserve us against foreign enemies and maintain peace among our citizens at home, that the one may not have the will, or the others the power, to harm us. The young men whom we before called guardians may be more properly designated auxiliaries and supporters of the principles of the rulers.

GLAUCON: I agree with you ...

SOCRATES: How then may we devise one of those needful falsehoods of which we lately spoke -- just one royal lie, which may deceive the rulers, if that be possible, and at any rate the rest of the city?

GLAUCON: What sort of lie ... ?

SOCRATES: Nothing new ... : only an old Phoenician tale of what has often occurred before now in other places [ref. = Plato's Laws, 663E] .. though not in our time, and I do not know whether such an event could ever happen again, or could now even be made probable, if it did.

GLAUCON: How your words seem to hesitate on your lips!

SOCRATES: You will not wonder ... at my hesitation when you have heard.

GLAUCON: Speak ... and fear not.

SOCRATES: Well then, I will speak, although I really know not how to look you in the face, or in what words to utter the audacious fiction, which I propose to communicate gradually, first to the rulers, then to the soldiers, and lastly to the people. They are to be told that their youth was a dream, and the education and training which they received from us, an appearance only; in reality during all that time they were being formed and fed in the womb of the earth, where they themselves and their arms and appurtenances were manufactured; when they were completed, the earth, their mother, sent them up; and so, their country being their mother and also their nurse, they are bound to advise for her good, and to defend her against attacks, and her citizens they are to regard as children of the earth and their own brothers.

GLAUCON: You had good reason ... to be ashamed of the lie which you were going to tell.

SOCRATES: True ... but there is more coming; I have only told you half. Citizens, you shall say to them in our tale, you are brothers, yet God has framed you differently. Some of you have the power of command, and in the composition of these he has mingled gold, wherefore also they have the greatest honor; others he has made of silver, to be auxiliaries; others again who are to be husbandmen [next page, Book III, p. 680] and craftsmen he has composed of brass and iron; and the species will generally be preserved in the children. But all are of the same original stock; a golden parent will sometimes have a silver son, or a silver parent a gold son. And God proclaims as a first principle to the rulers, and above all else, that there is nothing which they should so anxiously guard, or which they are to be such good guardians, as of the purity of the race. They should observe what elements mingle in their offspring; for if the son of a golden or silver parent has an admixture of brass and iron, then nature orders a transposition of ranks, and the eye of the ruler must not be pitiful towards the child because he has to descend in the scale and become a husbandman or artisan, just as there may be sons of artisans who having an admixture of gold or silver in them are raised to honour, and become guardians or auxiliaries. For an oracle says that when a man of brass or iron guards the State, it will be destroyed. Such is the tale; is there any possibility of making our citizens believe in it?

GLAUCON: Not in the present generation, he replied; there is no way of accomplishing this; but their sons may be made to believe in the tale, and their sons' sons, and posterity after them.

SOCRATES: I see the difficulty ... ; yet the fostering of such a belief will make them care more for the city and for one another. Enough, however, of the fiction, which may now fly abroad upon the wings of rumour, while we arm our earth-born heroes, and lead them forth under the command of their rulers. ...

Next Page: D. Plato's Communism; the Elite
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