Thursday, February 28, 2008

On hypocrites

I forgot to point out that this is a readated post, and that the first two comments were from people writing 2 and a half years ago.

Before I went offline, I went over to Maverick Philosopher's site and posted a comment which I really ought to put here.

What's very interesting about hypocrisy is that it is an inevitable by-product of having a high moral standard and rewarding socially behavior that lives up to that moral standard. If the bar is high, then you are always going to have some people who want the social benefits of appearing moral without actually being moral, and if that is the case then you'll get hypocrites. Thus it is an argument for being a member of a Christian church, and not an argument against it, that there are hypocrites in the church. If you dumb down your moral standard to the level that everyone can fairly easily satisfy, you'll get rid of the hypocrites, along with the high standard. Russell, for example, preached free sex and by golly, he practiced it! Does that say anything great about him?

10 comments:

Stuntmother said...

Actually, I think it does say something great about him: that either he lived his ideals or that he was honest enough to recognize who he was and created his ethical standards to match his behaviour.

John DelHousaye said...

Stuntmother: Suppose a rapist or child molester appropriated your logic?

A Christian is able to embrace his or her ugliness by lifting up Christ's life as the moral standard (the ideal). This is the antidote to hyprocrisy, I think.

Anonymous said...

Poor secular Canada and Western Europe. It must be a miracle how their crime rates are signifactly lower than ours, and how their amount of giving per capita is higher than ours.

Timmo said...

Victor,

I think you are right that hypocrisy is a more or less inevitable by-product of having high moral standards accepted at large by a community. Individuals in that community who are seeking prestige and the good opinion of others will be motivated to merely appear to conform to those standards. Hence, hypocrites come into existence.

At the same time, I am not sure this is a good argument for joining a church with hypocrites in it. Suppose the place is overrun with hypocrites and, for all the pious speech, people in the church perform no good works. Why bother joining that community? Hypocrites, if they are in power, can stultify the moral effectiveness of a community and make them irrelevant -- or even harmful.

As a Catholic, I worry that corruption in the Church makes it much less effective as a force moral change and as a source of spiritual growth. For instance, the Church's support of Franco's regime in Spain or the more recent abuse of children in the Boston Archdiocese are very alarming and beg the question as to whether the hypocrites in the Church are simply too successful at making the Church a vehicle for evil to be tolerated. I believe that these hypocrites have not paralyzed the Church; but their existence is not, in itself, a reason for becoming Catholic.

I guess the point I am driving at is just this: While everyone who aspires to great moral virtue is doomed to fail at points -- doomed to hypocrisy -- we must exercise the virtue of prudence, and carefully observe how moral failings of members of our community (possibly even ourselves) hurt that community and damage its ability to help our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Mark Frank said...

I agree that the public recognition of moral standards is necessary for hypocrisy. But surely the public recognition is more significant than the morals.

The standards don't have to be high or demanding - only acceptable to that community. Haggard is a hypocrite for condemning homosexuality while practicing it - but I have nothing against homosexuality.

A high level of hypocrisy in a community is to going what drives some people in that community to be moral, and also about the gullibility of the other members. But it is not going to prove anything about the nature of the moral standards.

Any kind of fraud relies on belief in the genuine article. But that doesn't mean that looking for communities with high levels of fraud is a good way of finding communities with lots of the genuine article.

Ilíon said...

Mr Delhousaye,
Tsk, tsk, tsk! We're not supposed to point out the logical consequences, absurd though they are, of atheistic "reasoning." It's rude!

As you surely ought to know, being too polite to state the obvious is the highest moral obligation! ;)

Ilíon said...

Timmo "... While everyone who aspires to great moral virtue is doomed to fail at points -- doomed to hypocrisy -- ..."

[Valid and important though the point you wish to make is, it must be pointed out that] Hypocrisy is something quite other than mere failure to live up to the standards of morality.

Ilíon said...

Mark Frank "The standards don't have to be high or demanding - only acceptable to that community. Haggard is a hypocrite for condemning homosexuality while practicing it - but I have nothing against homosexuality."

No, that's not it, either. This accusation follows from the "definition" of hypocrisy which appeals to those who hate actual morality, as you do.

And, as it turns out, Haggard was not a hypocrite on homosexuality.


Hypocrisy is not the mere failure to live up to actual morality or to the "community standards" one is willing to espouse. Hypocrisy is not the mere hiding or attempted hiding of one's failure to live up to actual morality or to the "community standards" one is willing to espouse.

That's weakness. Hypocrisy is something else again.


Coincidentally enough, this article at First Things addresses the occasion of the "Haggard is a hypocrite" 'meme' to discuss what is actually entailed in hypocrisy: Haggard and Hypocrisy

One Brow said...

Stuntmother: Suppose a rapist or child molester appropriated your logic?
Then they should go to jail. Are you claiming Russell victimized people in the same fashion as a child molestor or a serial rapist?

Ilíon said...

One Brow: "Are you claiming Russell victimized people in the same fashion as a child molestor or a serial rapist?"

Bluntly: yes.

While *we* -- human beings living in communities -- frequently consider some immoral acts to be of a worse nature than others (*), the truth is that there are no degrees to immorality. Using other human beings as things is using other human beings as things, regardless of whether the use is rape or "merely" fornication.


(*) Indeed, to even be able to live in community, we must treat some immoral acts as tolerable and others as intolerable. Were we to tolerate no immorality at all, we could not even live with our own selves, much less with others in community. Were we to tolerate all immorality, "communities" would be places one goes to to commit suicide-by-proxy.