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On the virtues of hypocrisy


hypocrite n. “a person who professes beliefs and opinions that he or she does not hold in order to conceal his or her real feelings or motives.”

Hypocrisy is regarded by society as among the most culpable of fallacies; a calumny from which I shall seek, by reason of a balancing of values, to defend it. It is my assertion that a person promulgating just moral values, thus facilitating the adoption of such values by others, is discharging a duty of sublime value irrespective of his subsequent conduct and that, if a choice were required, between the man expounding just principles but not conforming to them or the man promoting unjust principles and displaying conformity, the former is always to be preferred.

Let us illustrate by example. A minister of a church with rigour condemns voluptuary behaviour in all the forms it may adopt, warning his flock against the indulgence in such “immoral” activity. He is attempting to guard their consciences from offence. He is affording to them profound guidance upon which to conduct themselves. He does so diligently and in protection of their welfare. Let us suppose that this minister is himself satisfying his desires in the company of several courtesans and has so done regularly for several years. Does this detract from the value of the words he conveyed to his flock? Does not the guidance he gave remain legitimate? Was he not in earnest when he delivered those words? Are we to discount the moral cleanliness of those who have followed his counsel? To recapitulate: if the actions directed by the hypocrite are virtuous, then it is to accepted that his exaltation of such conduct is to be viewed as virtuous also, for it is by this direction that other individuals may benefit from the exercising of righteous conduct.

We must also turn to the recipients of such guidance. It may be argued, with at least some coherence on the surface, that the minister’s flock, enlightened as to his numerous mischiefs, will reject his words and follow his immoral example. This is an argument suffering from one severe flaw; it profoundly undermines the powers of discretion held by the flock. It presupposes that human beings are prepared to surrender their instruments of reason and pledge their acceptance to any arbitrary rule placed before them. This is a supposition I find bothersome to accept. Instead, I invite you to consider another possibility; that the flock, decidedly in agreement with the guidance set forth by their minister and elucidated by its persuasive prowess altered their behaviour not solely on the actions of the minister, but by the words he spoke. His arguments kindled in them moral strength; provoked their sense of decency. Such moral strength cannot be broken by action, not even by grave disappointment.

January 11, 2011 10:41 am

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