Monday, May 20, 2013

On the Fallacy of Hypocrisy

Sometimes, some people accuse other people of hypocrisy.

They might well do well to read the wise words of the late Dr. David Fleming:

David Fleming in Lean Logic wrote:
Hypocrisy, The Fallacy of. Hypocrisy scourge. Don’t worry about whether the person is right. Just assert that he doesn’t live up to the standards he argues for and accuse him of being a hypocrite.
The fallacy that, if what I do falls below the standards of what I say, my argument can be dismissed without more ado. The fallacy arises from the obvious discomforts of a contrast between good words and bad deeds, like those of Measure for Measure’s Angelo, upright in public, outrageous in private.
And yet, if an argument is a good one, dissonant deeds do nothing to contradict it. In fact, the hypocrite may have something to be said for him. For instance, he may not be making any claims at all about how he lives, but only about his values in the context of the argument. There is no reason why he should not argue for standards better than he manages to achieve in his own life; in fact, it would be worrying if his ideals were not better than the way he lives. He is not dazzled by his high personal standards; he does not make an icon of himself as the model of high moral standing. He is not defended by his sincerity from the possibility of self-criticism. His ideals are not limited to what he can achieve himself. What matters is whether his argument is right or not. With accusations of hypocrisy in the air, difficult questions about real problems short-circuit into ad hominem quarrel.
Hypocrisy is a bad thing with good qualities. Sincerity is a good thing with bad qualities; it shines a light on the simple certainties of your feelings on the matter, rather than on the awkward realities of the case. Some of the most intensely savage people this planet has ever produced were noted for their sincerity and their incorruptible and austere lives. There was Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794), largely responsible for the reign of terror during the French revolution, but, in his own life, he was the “Sea-Green Incorruptible”. And there was Conrad of Marburg (d. 1233), thin with fasting, who, in imitation of Jesus, rode on a donkey from place to place on his mission to discover and burn heretics and witches. For ground-breaking catastrophes, we have to turn to the incorruptible. We are safer with those who are not preoccupied with admiration of their own moral standing, confident that they can think no wrong.
If required to choose between sincerity and hypocrisy (writes the theologian David Martin),
“Give me a friendly hypocrite any day”. 


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