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Identifying with Liars in Plato's Republic

Laury Ward

Philosophical myths mark several key passages of the Republic: the ring of Gyges in the challenge of book 2, the myth of the metals in the education of the guardians in book 3, and the myth of Er at the conclusion of book 10. If we include allegories or extended metaphors in our survey, we find the Republic is full of figurative language - indeed, by the middle of the Republic Socrates has used figurative language so frequently that it becomes a joke between Socrates and his interlocutor. Yet in spite of the fact that this kind of language is so pervasive in the Republic, it is difficult to explain why such language appears in the Republic, and in particular why it so often appears in such prominent positions in the philosophical argument. I propose that the use of figurative language is an essential part of Plato’s pedagogical method, and the appearance of this kind of language in such key places within the argument of the Republic suggests that Plato is consciously constructing his dialogue as a pedagogical text. Under this view, the Republic is not, first and foremost, an explication of Plato’s views on ethics or politics; rather, it is an enticement for students, an advertisement for Platonic philosophy, and a road map to (limited) self-development. In order to explore the links between figurative language and this view of the Republic as a pedagogical text I consider book 3’s myth of the metals as a case study. My focus in this examination is what this case study reveals about Plato’s use of stories for pedagogical aims: what effect is this tale meant to have on the reader, and how does it serve the overarching pedagogical structure of the Republic?