NOTE: This article is the last of three on the aspects and roles of deception. It is taken from the 14th chapter of Hypocrisy: Ethical Investigations.
“There comes a time … when intelligent argument over rival doctrines must be postponed and critical attention directed instead to the crucial moral concepts themselves.”1 Joel Feinberg
“Give me chastity and continence, but not just now.”2 Augustine
So far we have argued that philosophers who claim that there can be hypocrisy without deception have failed to provide any compelling cases to support their claim. Many cases of hypocrisy that at first appear not to involve deception turn out to do so when considered more carefully. Furthermore, by including self-deception as an important form of deception, one is able to understand more fully an array of types of hypocrisy that might otherwise seem problematic.
It is methodologically impossible, however, to consider every possible case of hypocrisy and demonstrate how deception enters into it. Therefore, no matter how convincing the arguments so far have been, they cannot remove a slight possibility that somebody will someday uncover a case of hypocrisy that does not involve deception, even in the ways we have outlined. This chapter seeks to make even that slight possibility fade, by presenting a more positive argument. The argument unfolds by considering examples that all involve a gap between word and deed. We argue that such a gap is not sufficient for hypocrisy, since it is also characteristic of what appear to be distinct phenomena, such as “change of mind,” or “weakness of will.” We also argue that those philosophers who take a gap between word and deed to constitute the essence of hypocrisy are left unable to distinguish hypocrisy from these other phenomena. It is possible, of course, that these are not really distinct phenomena, despite commonly being thought of as separate. Perhaps people simply use different descriptions depending on their moral evaluation of the situation: for example using “hypocrisy” as an epithet to hurl at one’s political opponents. Although it proves surprisingly complex to understand the conceptual links and differences between hypocrisy, change of mind, and weakness of will, we believe distinguishing characteristics can be found. By presenting a number of variations on several examples, we demonstrate that subtle differences in the background scenarios can make the difference in regard to the category each belongs to. What is more, it turns out that an element of deception does indeed turn out to be crucial for distinguishing hypocrisy from these other concepts.
The “Disparity Pairs” Account of Hypocrisy
We will take out main opponent here the comprehensive and methodologically attractive account of hypocrisy offered by Dan Turner, which takes disparity or conflict to be the essential core of the concept. On this model, disparity pairs, such as words versus deeds, pretended beliefs versus genuine beliefs, or beliefs versus desires, are our resources for generating hypocrisy.3 But not just any disparity pair will do. For one thing, the disparity must be attributable to a single individual, since a disparity between the words of one person and the deeds of another cannot constitute hypocrisy.4 Furthermore, the disparity pair involved must express values. Presumably a person who merely forgets to do what s/he had said s/he would do is not a hypocrite.5 The claim is that this model of properly restricted disparity pairs capture shared basic intuitions without legislating away conflicting ones, and “is enough to generate most, if not all, of the central structure of the notion of hypocrisy.”6 Furthermore, it is thought to be a virtue of this account that it “does not presuppose that hypocrisy is always a morally bad thing or that it always involves insincerity.”7
Turner goes on to acknowledge one weakness in his account as it stands. This is that his definition is a bit too broad, since it would capture changes of mind, whereas Turner maintains that “cases of changing one’s mind do not properly count as cases of hypocrisy.”8 Turner thinks that some suitable further condition, which he does not even attempt to provide, would help us rule out cases of changing one’s mind, and that with this we would possess a general account.
We shall argue that this matter of providing a further condition to distinguish hypocrisy from changes of mind is more difficult than Turner suggests. This is so not only because it may be difficult to identify the further condition, but also because some cases of changing one’s mind may in fact amount to hypocrisy. This suggests that hypocrisy and changes of mind are not merely different species of the genus “disparity,” but rather distinct and overlapping concepts which need to be understood in terms of independent distinguishing features. We propose to explore some examples as a way of identifying these features.
Hypocrisy and Changes of Mind
A literary example will serve well to introduce the complexities of the relationship between changes of mind and hypocrisy. Consider the case of Mme. Cambremer and Poussin’s paintings in the Louvrem a rich and interesting example from Proust’s Cities of the Plain. She has an unfavourable opinion of Poussin’s at Chantilly. This gives her pause:
“Indeed? I don’t know about the ones at Chantilly,” said Mme. Cambremer, “…but I can speak about the ones in the Louvre, which are appalling.”
“He admires them immensely too.”
“I must look at them again. My impressions are rather distant,” she replied after a moment’s silence, as though the favourable opinion which she was certain before long to form of Poussin would depend, not upon the information that I had just communicated to her, but upon the supplementary, and this time final, examination that she intended to make of the Poussins in the Louvre in order to be in a position to change her mind.”9
This passage lends itself to a number of interesting interpretations. What is clear is that Mme de Cambremer has expressed one opinion at one time, and will express a different one at a later time, and that the information that Degas likes the paintings will play a crucial role in bringing about this change. There is still considerable room to speculate, however, about what that change signifies in terms of Mme de Crambremer’s moral psychology, and exactly what role the information about Degas plays in bringing about the change.
Consider first the possibilities most charitable to Mme de Crambremer. Perhaps she is moved by a respect for Degas’ critical eye. In this case she could have said, “Degas’ taste in these matters is impeccable. His eye is unerring. I must have missed something when I looked at the Poussins. I defer to his judgment.” This would have been forthright enough, and morally unproblematic. Her change of mind could have been explained simply by an unwillingness to set herself up as an expert. But she does not do this. In stating that she must look at them again herself, she refuses to relinquish her image as an independent critic who will rely ultimately only on her own judgment. This feature is crucial to understanding the situation described, and to the intimation that there seems to be some hypocrisy involved here, as will be explored below.
The insistence on accepting only her own judgment is not by itself morally problematic. Suppose that after this conversation, she goes to the Louvre to see the Poussins, perhaps looking more carefully this time. Suppose she is struck and moved by the; she sees how innovative and fresh they are, how they complete and break away from a line of thinking. Then, on this basis, she changes her mind. There is nothing amiss here. Degas’ opinion would indeed have been the spur that led to her change of mind, but this seems to be a clear case of a change of mind without any taint of hypocrisy.
Again, suppose she asks for Degas’ reasons for liking the Poussins. She admits that they seem like good reasons for approval. But she says “I have to see them myself.” She goes to the Louvre, sees what Degas meant and she is taken and moved by the paintings. No one could ask more of an honest change of mind. Again the change of mind can be traced to Degas’ remark, but not in a way which leaves any hint of hypocrisy hovering over Mme. De Cambremer.
But of course Proust’s description of her saying she will have to look at the paintings again suggests a course of events much less flattering to Mme de Cambremer. There are still several possibilities to explore, however. These all hinge on the fact that her remarks give rise to expectations about her as a person who has standards for aesthetic appreciation, who does not arrive at her appraisals on the basis of the most recent critical fashion, or on anyone else’s likes or dislikes. First of all, it could be that Mme de Crembremer genuinely has this image of herself, and values the traits it exemplifies. Accordingly, we can envision a scenario, whereby she does go to look at the Poussins again, and somehow convinces herself that she likes them more than she previously had. There might be a sort of self-deception at work here. Degas was the then-current guru of French painting, and a man whose opinion Mme de Crembremer respected. After hearing his opinion, she might have felt the stirrings of a desire to reach the same opinion as a sort of vindication of her aesthetic taste. She may also have had a lot invested in her belief that she was a woman of independent taste, however. To hold steadfastly to her original opinion would have called her taste into question by putting it at odds with Degas’. To simply relinquish that opinion would mean surrendering the independent image, however. The only way to bring these competing desires into harmony would be to look at the paintings again, and this time come to a different conclusion.
We have no trouble understanding this “solution” in human terms, and yet from the observer’s perspective there is clearly something amiss. If we know that this is the true motivation, then we also know that she is not after all exercising her independent aesthetic judgment. In holding on to that aspect of her self-image, Mme de Crembremer is deceiving herself, and also anyone else who observes this but does not understand the true motivation. In this case, we still clearly have a change of mind, yet there also seems to be an element of hypocrisy, in that Mme de Crembremer does not live up to the image she projects. Perhaps this sort of hypocrisy is not a serious moral failing, but it certainly involves the sort of internal conflict Turner takes to be the essence of hypocrisy. At the same time, however, it suggests that it will be difficult indeed to distinguish changes of mind from hypocrisy in the way of both! A natural way to try to mark the distinction is to introduce some form of insincerity as typical of hypocrisy—but this option is not available to Turner who rejects the view that insincerity is essential to hypocrisy.10
There are still other interpretations of the example available, however, and some of them may cast further light on the relationship between changes of mind and hypocrisy. First of all, consider a case much like the previous one, but in which Mme de Crembremer is a little more self-aware. Perhaps because she is unable to identify any feature of the paintings which struck her differently upon re-examination, she comes to wonder about her own change of mind. Perhaps she comes to believe that it came about in just the sort of way described above: from the need to bring two disparate desires into harmony. This version of Mme de Crembremer is no longer self-deceived, but then what does she say to her friends? How does she explain her changed opinion of the paintings? Of course she could simply tell the truth as she now understands it, but that would be embarrassing. It would not be an example of unusual moral weakness if she were to conceal this embarrassing truth. Thus she might pretend to the world that her change of mind was due solely to her second, more careful, critical look. Perhaps she will say something such as “I had not previously appreciated the way Poussin uses colour.” This small fib is aimed at deceiving others about her status as an art critic. As such, Mme de Cambremer pretends to be better than she really is, by posing as a detached, autonomous, impartial appraiser of art, untouched by the vogues of artistic fashion yet blessed with an unerring eye. This sort of presence seems exactly the stuff hypocrisy is made of, and its deliberate nature may make it seem even more morally culpable. Yet again, there is also a genuine change of mind here about the value of the paintings.
We can imagine yet other interpretations that involve hypocrisy, but do not include this sort of change of mind, however. Suppose that Mme de Cambremer does not truly value independent aesthetic judgment but realizes that others do, and wants to be thought well by others. It might then be important to her to obtain a reputation for being an autonomous, reliable appraiser of art. One way to do this, of course, would be to take pains to develop the relevant skills. But that might seem too difficult or unreliable a path, and Mme de Cambremer seek to obtain the reputation without having to do the hard work of earning it. Again, this seems to be a paradigmatic case of hypocrisy. She might think that a few well-placed statements of opinion will get her what she wants, and her anticipated pronouncement that she likes the Poussins might be just such a statement.
To see why this could be a case of hypocrisy that does not involve change of mind, notice the distinction between having an opinion and expressing an opinion. There is no trouble with the notion that a person might have an opinion but not express it. This case suggests the slightly more problematic possibility of a person’s expressing an opinion, but not having one. Mme de Cambremer’s initial assertion that she disliked the Poussins may have been merely a remark calculated to bring about the desired reputation, without being backed by any genuine conviction. Thus there need not have been any genuine opinion about the paintings in the first place, and thus no change of mind about them. Clearly, she says one thing at one time and a contradictory thing at another time, and thus it would be natural for an observer to infer that she has had a change of mind. And Mme de Cambremer might take care to engage in the sort of behaviour which might lead to a change of mind, such as a re-examination of the paintings, although she may not even bother looking at them again if she thinks no one will be the wiser. But this is all part of the hypocritical pretence, and the perception of others that she has changed her mind about the paintings does not make it so.
But perhaps there is a change of mind here after all. At one time, Mme de Cambremer believes that the best way to get the reputation she craves is to express one opinion. Then later she decides that she will stand a better chance of getting the desired reputation by saying something different. She has indeed changed her mind then, but not about the paintings: she has changed her mind about the best means to obtain the reputation she is interested in. In this case, Mme de Cambremer would be deceiving others, not about whether she’s had a change of mind, but about what it is she’s had a change of mind about.
It is interesting to note, however, that her hypocrisy does not really lie in this change of mind, although it is in a sense revealed by it. Even if Mme de Cambremer’s opinion of the Poussins had never changed, she could have been acting hypocritically. The crucial question is whether she was trying to pass off her opinion as the result of a nobler process than the one that really formed it—whether she was merely pretending to aesthetic taste. Thus it is clear that the hypocrisy could have existed without any change of mind.
Different interpretations of this passage have revealed that there can be changes of mind without hypocrisy, hypocrisy without changes of mind, and also cases in which there is both a change of mind and hypocrisy. What structural differences between the concepts can be gleaned from the example? First of all, changes of mind require an inconsistency involving different times, whereas hypocrisy seems able to exist at a single time, though events over time may help to reveal it. Furthermore, hypocrisy seems to require the presence of an audience whose esteem is desired, in a way changes of mind do not. This audience puts a demand on a person to adhere to presumed shared standards. For example, if there are standards for changing one’s mind, then a person who pretends to change his or her mind because of those standards, but in fact does so because of factors deemed unworthy or unacceptable by the social group, is a hypocrite. In general, pretending to be motivated by certain considerations, while really being motivated only by a desire to appear to others to be motivated by those considerations, seems to constitute hypocrisy. There is much more here than value-expressive disparity between the words and actions of the same person. Specifically, it seems that some form of deception, directed toward others or oneself, typically plays a role in cases of hypocrisy,11 although of course such description is not necessarily unsuccessful.
HYPOCRISY AND MORAL WEAKNESS: CASE HISTORIES
The account of hypocrisy as the presence of a value-expressive “disparity pair” within a single individual also fails to differentiate hypocrisy from moral weakness. Exploring some variations on an example Turner provides will serve to illustrate this point and help clarify whether there is a need to draw such a distinction. His example is as follows:
“I am a vegetarian in the sense that I believe that it is morally wrong for people in ordinary situations to eat (red) meat. I am persuaded by arguments based on the view that the pleasure of eating meat does not outweigh such suffering as those animals experience. I am not just barely persuaded either—I think the case can be made in a way that is solidly convincing. However, occasionally, in ordinary situations, I eat meat. Am I a hypocrite?”12
Turner goes on to point out that this sort of situation does not fit dictionary definition of hypocrisy, since I do not falsely profess vegetarianism, nor merely pretend to have vegetarian beliefs. Yet he seems confident that there is hypocrisy here nevertheless, stating, “insofar as I have any intuitions left on the matter, it seems to me that indeed I am a hypocrite.”13 Indeed, the gap between moral belief and behaviour here does seem to exemplify the kind of “disparity pair” which Turner takes to be definitive of hypocrisy. We will argue that some scenarios fitting these basic facts do constitute hypocrisy, as Turner contends, but that other such scenarios do not. Exploring which features need to be present in order to turn this basic sketch into an instance of hypocrisy will help to highlight the shortcomings of Turner’s attempted definition.
Let us begin each case, following Turner’s sketch, in which the protagonist is a clear-cut candidate for the label “hypocrite.” Consider Henry, who is quite vocal about his vegetarianism, frequently criticizing those around him for failing to live up to his high moral standards. Suppose Henry goes home for the holidays, and that his father has prepared vegetarian dishes for him, and meat dishes for the other people present. We, as invited guests, offer to fetch something from the kitchen, and find Henry there, hovering over the meat dish, mouth full. At first he denies that he was eating the meat, and makes feeble attempts to save face, such as saying, “I was just dipping a bit of broccoli into the sauce.” When it is clear that we do not believe these denials, he admits that he ate some of the meat, but claims that there was nothing wrong in doing so, and seems to be casting about desperately for arguments that will justify his behaviour. It does seem plausible to consider Henry a hypocrite, and thus there is reason to think that Turner has indeed sketched an area in which hypocrisy may arise. It is not clear, however, that the justification for labelling Henry a hypocrite can be found solely in the gap between professed beliefs and behaviour. To see which other features of Henry’s situation influence the judgment that he is a hypocrite, consider some alternative scenarios involving the same basic features.
Consider now the case of Delia, a vegetarian who again is home for the holidays. Delia’s aging mother, however, is unaware of her vegetarianism, and has prepared specially for her the dish she enjoyed most as a teenager—meatloaf. Delia is on the horns of a little dilemma, and resolves it in favour of her mother. She eats the meatloaf to please her mother—well, she enjoys it too.
In this case, there is clearly the gap between profession and performance that Turner describes. Notice, though, how much less we are inclined to offer moral criticism of Delia than of Henry. Of course, the absence of moral criticism would not convince Turner that there is no hypocrisy here, since he claims the hypocrisy is not necessarily a term of moral condemnation. But some of the richness of our moral vocabulary would be lost if we were unable to distinguish this case from that of Henry.
Perhaps Turner could distinguish the examples by arguing that there is no conflict between principle and performance in Delia’s case at all—we have simply been given an incomplete account of her principles. A richer account would include the ranking of her vegetarianism among her moral principles, and then it might emerge that eating the meatloaf in this situation is the only thing which fits her moral principles, since, let us say, not harming humans, and especially her mother, is ahead of not harming non-human animals. Remember that the vegetarian principle, as stated, included the proviso that it is wrong to eat meat “in ordinary situations.” Although that phrase conjures up images of people otherwise facing starvation and so on, perhaps the case described here involves a situation which is not ordinary, in that there is a competing moral principle at stake. If so, then perhaps Delia is not a hypocrite after all, even on Turner’s definition, and his account has so far successfully distinguished the hypocrite from the non-hypocrite. But he is not yet out of the woods.
Let us call our next vegetarian Victor. Now suppose Victor goes home for the holidays, and his thoughtful mother has prepared vegetarian dishes for him, but has prepared meatloaf for the rest of the family. Suppose further that his mother’s meatloaf was his favourite meal as a teenager. Amidst the nostalgia of being home with his family, Victor has a sudden longing for meatloaf and has a forkful. Subsequently he feels remorseful and embarrassed for violating his principles and confesses his shame to his family. He explains that he had such a strong appetite for the meat that all he could think of was how tasty it would be, and just impulsively went for it.
On this description, Victor seems like a prototypical sufferer from moral weakness. He is overcome by bodily temptations, and does something he believes to be wrong. Problematic as such moral weakness has been for philosophers, this does not at first seem like a case of hypocrisy. Yet note that Victor’s case shares with Henry’s the professed commitment to vegetarianism and the observed failure to act in accordance with that commitment which Turner takes to be constitutive of hypocrisy. We believe, however, that it would be a mistake to lump these examples together under the single heading of hypocrisy, because important moral distinctions would be lost in doing so.
Let us compare the two cases, looking for differences which may help to locate a more appropriate definition of hypocrisy. First of all, Henry and Victor react very differently after the “lapse” from their vegetarianism. Whereas Victor demonstrates remorse, Henry makes excuses and struggles to justify this behaviour. Henry’s response raises questions about the way he holds this moral belief. In making excuses, he seems overly concerned with how he appears to others and insufficiently concerned with his internal moral standing. This might lead us to suspect that his vegetarianism itself has been adopted largely so as to appear morally upright in the eyes of others. Others might respect him for his vegetarianism, even if they do not themselves accept that moral standard, so long as they see it as a case of depriving oneself, on the basis of one’s morality, of a good which others commonly enjoy. Thus in becoming a vegetarian, Henry might indeed be creating the impression of one who is a particularly moral person. Our suspicion that this is merely an impression, though, might be further supported by his loud proclamations his principles and criticisms of others who do not follow his standards. This sort of concern for reputation does indeed seem characteristic of hypocrisy.
Victor, on the other hand, appears to be concerned with his internal moral standing, and to be more sincere about his principles, even though he has failed to live up to them. His failure seems to lie in a sort of impulse that has escaped from his rational control, and has thereby set up a genuine inner turmoil. In short, Victor’s case seems to be one of weakness of will, and it loses much of the richness of our moral vocabulary if we lump his case in with Henry’s under a common label—“hypocrisy”—simply because they share some structural similarities.
HYPOCRISY AND MORAL WEAKNESS: DIFFERENCES
In some cases of hypocrisy, the words and beliefs are paraded rather than really meant or held. Instead of their inner struggle that one might expect from a conflict of value, we find ulterior motives and a subtext of self-interest. Instead of irrationality where the subject’s behaviour defeats his or her best intentions, we discern a rational strategy to grind the hypocrite’s own axe. Instead of harm caused to the subject by the subject, we discover that the hypocritical subject managed to gain something from his or her unwitting audience. Instead of openness and forthrightness about his or her lapse, we witness efforts to hide and conceal the distance between word and deed. Instead of lack of self-control, we find rather calm, cool and calculating behaviour. All this contrasts rather typically with the concept of weakness of will, with its notorious features of incoherence, its self-harm, its helpless embarrassments, its diminished sense of agency. Witnesses to weakness of will, if there be any (and there need not be), are apt to be perplexed, possibly sympathetic observers rather than entrapped victims. The hypocrite is likely to be embarrassed only when exposed.
This series of contrasts is intended to render salient the conceptual differences between paradigm cases of hypocrisy and weakness of will. None of what we say is meant to deny that weakness of will or cowardice may be a cause of hypocrisy. Consider an academic at a faculty meeting where a powerful faction advocates a course of action s/he disapproves of, yet s/he goes along with it, even pretends to believe in it publicly, because of weakness of will or fear of reprisal. Yet the resulting behaviour is essentially deceptive, and is motivated by a concern to look good in the eyes of others, and therefore seems to qualify as hypocritical as well.
It might be tempting to distinguish these concepts by saying that, while the weak-willed person does not have the psychological power to act on his or her principle, the hypocrite does have that power.14 Indeed, weakness of will seems to involve some lack of self-control, while the hypocrite exhibits not only self-control but an attempt to control “the other” as well. The problem with this way of drawing the distinction lies in the obscurity of the notion of “psychological power.” Neither the hypocrite nor the weak-willed person does what s/he advocates. Yet the claim that one and not the other could have done so requires more information about the sense in which it is possible for people to do something other than what they do. This issue is more than can be approached in this work; even without it, however, there is reason to distinguish between the concepts.
To see the distinction, it might be helpful to consider some slight variations on the cases already offered. Suppose Henry has adopted vegetarianism for exactly the sort of reasons suggested above: he wants to appear to take the moral high ground and thereby gain the moral approval of others. Unlike in the previous case, however, suppose he never violates this adopted rule by eating meat. Perhaps, if he could be assured that nobody would find out, he would eat meat in a second, but he abstains because he is so worried about his moral reputation that he does not want to take the risk of losing it. In this case, Henry would clearly be deceiving others about his moral beliefs, and doing so to gain a sort of advantage—their moral respect. Even though there is no gap between his belief and his behaviour here, there is good reason to accuse Henry of hypocrisy. Indeed, this version of Henry would still have the sort of “disparity pair” Turner takes to be crucial to hypocrisy, here between announced belief and actual belief. But notice how implausible it is to attribute weakness of will to Henry under this description. So, clearly, not all cases of hypocrisy are also cases of weakness of will.
Now consider a slight re-description of Victor’s case. Suppose that Victor has become convinced that vegetarianism is morally required, but has not told anyone of this decision. He resolves to eat only the vegetarian dishes when home for the holidays, but to do his best to conceal this, so as not to offend his mother, who went to so much trouble preparing dishes. Then he is overcome by the aroma of the meatloaf and has a forkful. In this case, it is still plausible to attribute weakness of will to Victor, but in the complete absence of a moral “audience,” it seems difficult to attribute hypocrisy. It appears, then, that hypocrisy requires others who are meant to convey a better-than-deserved reputation in a way weakness of will does not, and weakness of will requires a gap between belief and behaviour which is not necessary for hypocrisy. Clearly, then, these are distinct concepts.
This is not to say that the boundary between these two concepts is rigidly demarcated. There is fluidity enough here so that akrasia (as the Greeks called it) can pass over into hypocrisy. This may happen when the weak-willed person tries to disguise his or her lapse. Concerned with how one appears to others, one may, by special pleading, re-describe one’s situation so that one’s image as a moral agent is restored in front of actual or imagined others.
Alternatively, one might pretend to be suffering from weakness of will as a way of covering up some other moral failing. Consider the rather curious case of Tolstoy and chastity as it is recounted by Alymer Maude. “When he was nearly seventy, he one day expressed to me his conviction that despite difficulties and repeated failures, one should never cease to aim at chastity; and he added: ‘I was myself a husband last night, but that is no reason for abandoning the struggle; God may grant me not to be so again.’”15 This case again lends itself to several different interpretations. Indeed, if one takes a cynical view of the fact that Tolstoy himself allegedly related this tale, one may suspect that he was simultaneously trying to get a reputation for high moral ideals, and for a sexual heartiness that allowed him, even at his advanced age, to be found desirable by women, and to perform sexually (in an epoch without Viagra!).
Perhaps Tolstoy wants to have his sexual peccadilloes as well as his ideal of chastity. He would begin advocating the moral ideal of chastity for everyone, hence committing himself to act in accordance with this ideal. Yet when he realizes that this is an obstacle in his pursuit of sexual pleasures, Tolstoy would make an exception of himself while still advocating the ideal for everyone else. He might say that his sexual desires and needs are greater and more intense than those of most others. Instead of acting as he should—in a chaste manner—Tolstoy’s surrogate for moral action is a feeling of remorse or guilty conscience after the sexual transgression. This is carefully arranged to occur in retrospect. For if Tolstoy were to feel guilty in anticipation of this transgression, then this guilty conscience at the very thought of the sexual encounter would serve as a deterrent to the act. But our modified Tolstoy knows what he is going about when he does this. It is essential to the success of this manoeuvre that the feeling should not be prior to the action, or too strong for that matter.
It is worth returning to Turner’s example of the lapsed vegetarian one more time. Turner suggests two explanations for the gap between this individual’s announced moral views and behaviour, which have not yet been considered.16 One of these is that the person merely forgot the moral principle or how it was to be applied. The other is that the individual thought there were moral reasons to abstain from eating meat, but self-interested reasons to indulge in it, and simply had the view about ethics that self-interested reasons can at least sometimes be allowed to win out over moral reasons. Turner suggests that this person can still be considered a hypocrite, because of the gap between utterance and performance. Clearly these are not cases of change of mind or weakness of will. But should they be considered hypocrisy?
One insight into this question can be found in a proposed definition of hypocrisy as a failure to take morality seriously enough.17 Certainly one who simply forgets to do what is morally required, or who says in effect “I think it is OK to do this just because I want to, even though I know it’s wrong,” could be accused of not talking morality seriously enough. But if the person is straightforward about this, and in the second case has reached this conclusion at the end of a long, careful process of philosophical reflection, it is hard to see how we can claim that the moral shortcoming amounts to hypocrisy.
Consider the first case of the forgetful vegetarian. Suppose s/he is at a transitional stage in a vegetarian’s career which involves the process of adjusting one’s practice to one’s new beliefs. s/he openly admits the discrepancy. Here we are inclined to credit the excuse “I forgot my vegetarian beliefs”—better still, “I forgot myself.” While this is evidence of some lack of moral seriousness, such lack of attentiveness is not sufficient for hypocrisy. For hypocrisy is not lack of moral seriousness simply, but must also involve giving the impression of such moral seriousness.
Consider now the case of people who are morally less than serious, and who keep forgetting their vegetarian beliefs. Even though such people may openly say, when challenged, that they do not practise what they preach, they do not appear to be hypocrites. The only thing that would make them hypocrites would be insincerity about their attitude to the general expectation that holding a moral belief commits one to act on it, in the absence of good reasons to the contrary. What appears as openness may in fact be a deeper sort of insincerity. For the hypocrite’s strategic silence about not following tacit shared convictions enables him or her to unfairly benefit from others acting on the basis of the convention, while s/he makes an exception of him or herself. Another dissimilarity between the morally unserious (but above-the-board person), and the hypocrite is that the latter finds others’ lack of moral seriousness unbearable, excoriating and castigating them, yet expecting others to bear with equanimity his or her own lack of moral seriousness.
Let us now turn to the case of the individual who, having engaged in moral reflection, has solid reasons for believing that eating meat in ordinary situations is morally wrong. While s/he preaches this, s/he does not practise it and explains the gap by claiming that self-interested reasons can outweigh moral ones. Is this a morally serious person, and if so, can s/he still be a hypocrite? There is a sense in which this person takes morality seriously, since s/he engages in moral reflection. On the other hand, there is a sense in which s/he does not take morality seriously, since we (as observers) might say that s/he does not give moral considerations as much weight as s/he should. We might say this especially when we suspect that the relevant conclusions were reached through a kind of rationalization. For example, if s/he is really motivated by the desire to appear “politically correct,” and the moral arguments are mere self-deceptive rhetorical props, then s/he is a plausible candidate for hypocrisy. So, even if one has some degree of moral concern, this does not rule out the possibility of hypocrisy. In fact, a sort of hyper-morality provides fertile soil for hypocrisy, much like a hyper-rationality is often a source of irrationality.
In any event, perhaps the failure to take morality seriously enough generally appears as hypocrisy simply because others mistakenly assume that one takes morality as seriously as they do, and thus one has a reputation for being “better” in their eyes than one deserves. This appears to be a theme running through all clear examples of hypocrisy. It seems that there must be an “audience” of some sort that attributes to the individual a nobler standing than its members would if they knew the facts. In this sense, the hypocrite, if not exposed, benefits from a sort of deception of others. But this makes it sound as if hypocrisy has more to do with the faulty inferences of its victims and less to do with the hypocrite’s own actions or omissions, which is plainly false—since such faulty inferences in his or her favour are precisely the strategic goals of the hypocrite. While a gap between what one says and what one really believes or does may be the most common indication of such a misunderstanding in one’s favour, we have seen that this is not after all the distinguishing characteristic of hypocrisy. For changes of mind and weakness of will also exhibit this feature, without thereby becoming hypocritical.
Furthermore, there can be hypocrisy even if one lives up to one’s stated principles, if the reasons for doing so are something other than a genuine endorsement of those principles, and if one pretends otherwise. Some form of deception or insincerity appears to be a requirement for hypocrisy, whether, as in cases of cynical hypocrisy, it be the deliberate and fully self-conscious deception of others about one’s moral character, or, as in cases of complacent or self-righteous hypocrisy, it be the less than explicitly conscious, even unconscious ways of self-deception.
What then are the lessons to be harvested from our discussion of some of the challenging contributions to the literature on hypocrisy? By trying to eliminate any sort of deception or insincerity as essential to hypocrisy, these authors have compelled us to explore deception and its role in hypocrisy more deeply. We have argued for a tighter connection than usual between hypocrisy and insincerity. Such insincerity, we claimed, cannot be reduced to, or exhausted by, the self-conscious acts of deliberate other-deception, since it is not uncommon for self-deception to play a role in complacent or self-righteous hypocrisy, nor is unconscious hypocrisy unheard of. In cases of motivational over determination, we may strategically, if thoughtlessly, parade the motive that makes us look better, even though we are guilty of a failure of self-knowledge. And this kind of self-deception may be part of the hypocritical picture. We also argued that the interesting notion of “out-of-the-closet” hypocrisy needs deception as a required feature, and that making the actions of others a condition for one’s own practice counts as hypocrisy only if some form of insincerity is involved. Finally, we have argued that the feature of deception of some sort is needed in order to distinguish cases of hypocrisy from cases of what might at first appear to be hypocrisy but are instead merely forgetfulness, changes of mind, or weakness of will.
1. Joel Feinberg, editor, Moral Concepts, 1969, p. 4.
2. Augustine, Confessions, VIII, 7.
3. Turner, “Hypocrisy,” p. 265.
4. Ibid., p. 266.
5. It is worth noting here that simply forgetting can nevertheless express, or carry, value. One may be morally culpable for forgetting, for example, if others are counting on one, or if one has promised to do something. Even here, although surely Turner is on to an important feature of hypocrisy, his account fails to characterize that feature with enough precision. Indeed, it should be noted that when Turner discusses a case in which there is a gap between what one preaches and what one practices, he gives as one possible explanation that one might simply forget, yet he seems to consider this a case of hypocrisy nevertheless. This raises questions about whether he even consistently applies his own definition.
7. Ibid., 262 and 268. For a further discussion of the moral status of hypocrisy, see the chapters in Part II of this book. See also Piers Benn, “What is Wrong with Hypocrisy?” in International Journal of Moral and Social Studies, 8, 3, 223-35.
8. Turner, 266.
9. Marcel Proust, Cities of the Plain in Remembrance of Things Past, p. 841.
10. Turner, 268.
11. See Bela Szabados, “Hypocrisy,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy, ix (1979) 197 and 206-10.
12. Turner, 263.
14. R.M. Hare is one person who has drawn a distinction along these lines, writing, “the typical case of moral weakness as opposed to that of hypocrisy, is a case of ‘ought but can’t’ … Nor will it do to quote cases in which a man goes on saying he ought, but fails to act, even though he can act, in every sense of ‘can.’ For this is the case of what I called purposive backsliding, or hypocrisy, and these are allowed for.” R.M. Hare, Freedom and Reason, 1963, p. 80, 82.
15. Alymer Maude, in his introduction to one of Tolstoy’s works in the World Classics Series of Oxford University Press.
16. \turner, 263-64.
17. Crisp and Cowton, “Hypocrisy and Moral Seriousness,” 347.