October 04, 2006
The Noble Lie
Okay, so when we last left Socrates, he was trying to reconcile the interests of the individual with the interests of the city, that is of the larger social constructs of human kind. What he ends up with is what has become known as the "noble lie," that is, a set of myths at the root of all societies that are revered as the basis for those societies.
We have our myths, some of them written right into our Constitution when the Fathers of our country begin with the phrase, "We hold these truths to be self evidentů." Ah ha, self evident! Well, to many of us they do seem that way, which is to say, we deeply agree with what follows "that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights . . . to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness . . . "
Yes, we may be in substantial agreement with those noble statements and support them as guidelines in how to build a society and a government of laws based on those assumptions. Socrates would agree, at least in principle, though he held up another model of governance as his ideal.
What we are talking about is that much of those ideas embodied in our founding documents are the opinions of people, people we admire to be sure, but opinions nonetheless. Since they cannot be proven beyond their basic assertion as being true, they may well fall under the rubric of being what Socrates called "the noble lie." This is a set of basic concepts that have no preceding logic or manner of proof other than that they seem to conform to a good way to create a just and equitable society.
The connection to psychology is critical, because we all put ourselves together on the basis of certain myths. If they are supportive of a free and open sense of ourselves, we don't look too closely because they probably don't cause us too much grief. If, however, our "noble lies" are very constraining and constricting perspectives, then we might want to take a closer look because such myths may substantially cripple our ability to lead peaceful and interpersonally connected lives.
That is where a contemporary version of Socrates, a coach or a counselor might be helpful. Now Socrates, to finish the idea of the noble lie, understood that humans will probably always need some level of mythology to make sense of their lives. However, it should be said that his ideal was to call people to transcend as much as possible any reliance upon mythology and to dedicate one's life to the pursuit of wisdom, the love of wisdom, that is to philosophy. The more one lets go of parochial attachments, the more one is able to see the universal connections that tie us all together, the more one can live a life of freedom in the broadest, most inclusive sense of the word.
Socrates did realize that such a path was not going to be for the many, but rather the few might attempt to follow it. At the same time, he wanted the human community at large to unburden itself as much as it could of really counterproductive myths so that the personal goals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness could be realized in as many lives as possible. Let me know what you think
Frank Mosca Ph.D. is a licensed counselor, life and marital coach with a practice in Hampton Bays and Garden City. Check out his putting minds in motion seminars by contacting him at firstname.lastname@example.org.