Friday, April 19, 2019

Logical Fallacy of Hypocrisy

Many people are quick to use the false argument of hypocrisy to denounce climate protesters of the Extinction Rebellion. “They went by car.” “They have leather shoes.” “They drink coffee from a plastic cup.” Etc. It’s nonsense of course. My advice to lead a good life is no less valid, as good advice, if I myself am a sinner.

Here is how the late David Fleming approached the issue as he wrote in his philosophical masterpiece, Lean Logic.

Hypocrisy, The Fallacy of.  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 as 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”.   


Anonymous Alistair Hill said...

Interesting blog. I am in agreement with you about the criticism of XR is a fallacy of hypocrisy. Never the less I think, on a personal level, there is a struggle. We do 'enjoy' the material benefits which consumer capitalism affords us. It is convenient to be able to drive places at our on will, be in touch by smart phones, have an international pallet of food available on out door step. This is one thing that make political and personal change such a challenge. However, it is all to easy to forget the true cost of these and the inevitable damage they are creating, as they alienate us from nature. This is why solutions need to be focused on a reconnection with nature and each other to and the deeper enjoyments which these can foster. But these are not easy tasks, but the greatest achievement never are.

4:24 pm  

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