Sunday, 28 February 2010

The Honest Lie


A Socratic Dialogue

Socrates: Ah,-there you are, Plato. You have a moment to spare for talk?

Plato: I'm busy, Socrates. I have an appointment to keep. You mustn't think ill of me If I bid you farewell.

Socrates: Very well, my young friend. Tell me, are you some distance from the place of appointment?

Plato: It is a good way that I must travel - yes. Why do you ask?

Socrates: Why, because then I may still have an opportunity to speak to you. I will walk with you - we may converse on the way there.

Plato: That will delay me. I shall be late. No, I'm sorry but -

Socrates: Do you want to speak to me?

Plato: I would speak to you, but I simply don't have the time to spare.

Socrates: Answer me honestly, Plato. You are trying to avoid my conversation, aren't you?

Plato: That question is insulting! I demand an apology.

Socrates: Oh! So I have offended you?

Plato: Of course!

Socrates: I confess ignorance! I ask a simple question, and you take offence at it. Be a good fellow, and explain to me how this offends you.

Plato: It casts doubts upon my honesty. Haven't .I told you that I would speak to you, but do not have the time to do so.

Socrates: It is offensive to cast doubts upon a person's honesty?

Plato: Obviously!

Socrates: It is not obvious to me, I assure you.

Plato: It is ill-mannered to doubt a man's word!

Socrates: Indeed! So I must believe that which everyone tells me is the truth?

Plato: No, obviously not. That would be silly. But you must not openly doubt a person's word.

Socrates: So I should pretend to believe you are telling the truth about your "arranged meeting", while at the same time suspecting you tell a lie?

Plato: Correct. That is indeed the position that you must take.

Socrates: Tell me, If I lied to you, would you not be offended by my deception of you?

Plato: Yes, very much so.

Socrates: And, as a general rule, to lie to someone is to offend them?

Plato: Yes.

Socrates: Think carefully, Plato, and tell me this. A lie deceives by pretending that something is true when it is, in fact, false. Is this true?

Plato: It is true.

Socrates: So a lie is a false pretence to truth?

Plato: That follows surely from the nature of the lie.

Socrates: Well, It seems to me that if I pretend to believe your story of an appointment, while, in fact, I do not believe you have spoken the truth, then my pretence is a false pretence to truth. Yes?

Plato: Certainly, that is true.

Socrates: Then by the logic of this argument my pretence is insulting to you, because a lie is offensive and a false pretence to truth is a lie. So, If I should not offend you then I should, in fact, not pretend to believe you. Correct?

Plato: The logic is true, Socrates. But you should still refrain from stating your disbelief of my explanations.

Socrates: By dog! I am not to disbelieve you, yet I am not to pretend to believe you either. How am I to speak? What am I to do?

Plato: That is your dilemma, Socrates, not mine,

Socrates: How little you care for honesty, Plato.

Plato: The world cares little, Socrates.

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