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Sunday, December 23, 2012


To engage in hypocrisy means to claim to hold a certain position while in fact (deeper down?) you hold a quite different if not contrary position.

Hypocrisy is widely viewed in a very negative light and frequently that view is justified.

However, in certain circumstances there is a significant silver lining associated with hypocrisy.  In fact, I believe that, in certain situations, hypocrisy may be a first step in moral awareness.  

When A engages in hypocrisy he implicitly acknowledges that the position that he claims to hold is, in some sense, morally superior to a common alternative position.  Some observers will see the position A claims and his alleged reasons for holding that position to represent valid arguments and be convinced of the validity of that as the morally superior position.  Later, when they learn of his hypocrisy, those observers may have different responses to A.  But for some, what was a hypocritical position for A, will remain a very real position for them.

Of course I need an example.  I offer a classic.  “We hold these truths to be self evident – that all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.”  For how many generations has that been offered up as “our belief”.  Perhaps the parents of the boomer generation of Americans were especially convincing.  I do not know to what extent those parents’ claim of a belief in racial equality was real.  But many of their children took their parents stated support of the principle to heart.  The result was a large and necessary white component to the civil rights movement.

Therefore, far from being universally a negative activity I think the following is sometimes a better description.

Hypocrisy is the deference we show to those precepts that we recognize as valid, but are unable to practice. 

1 comment:

  1. One of those times when the light bulb comes on and you slap your forehead. I agree, hypocrisy is not a “universally negative activity”.

    Other terms that might I might associate with hypocrisy would be “deception” or “intellectual dishonesty”, both of which are also usually considered “wrong”. So if I commit a deception that has positive results is the deception (hypocrisy) still wrong? And that is where I have problems.

    1. If I accept that a positive result takes the “wrong” away from deception then I am left with the ends justify the means. Which I don’t believe (but I could accept something along the lines of the ends might make the means acceptable).
    2. I could accept that the hypocrisy and its results are indeed irrevocably intertwined and constituted a single “thing” that must be judged on its totality. But I don’t really believe that so I won’t.
    4. I could accept that, although the results may be the consequences of the hypocrisy the, rightness or wrongness of the results is not coupled to and does not reflect on the rightness or wrongness of the hypocrisy. An ugly state of affairs but, for me, the easiest to defend logically.

    So, if faced with a situation where I could intentionally take a hypocritical position in the hopes of producing a positive result what would I do? No doubt there are times I would opt for the positive results in spite of the feeling that my innate sense of right and wrong is fading into intellectual oblivion.

    Wayne’s definition does give me a little moral cover.