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Hypocrisy and the Good of Character Possession

  • Christine McKinnon (a1)
Abstract
Résumé

L'hypocrisie implique un souci de la réputation morale qui conduit aà des contradictions entre les actions et les raisons d'agir qui sont ouvertement déclarées, ou entre les raisons d'agir réelles et celles qui sont ouvertement déclarées. On opposera ici les actions hypocrites aux actions velléitaires, et les personnes hypocrites aux personnes velléitaires. Les rapports entre l'intégrité et l'hypocrisie seront esquissés: ce qui distingue la personne intègre et l'hypocrite, ce sont leurs attitudes respectives à l'endroit de leurs raisons d'agir, cela ouvre une voie pour la compréhension de ce qu'il y a de mauvais dans l'hypocrisie. Les supercheries de l'hypocrite font obstacle à sa tentative de se construire pour lui-même une personnalité dans le cadre de laquelle ses identifications autoconstitutives puissent luifournir des raisons d'agir. Il compromet ainsi son propre bien. Et il sape, au surplus, la fin collective de la moralité en faussant les données sur lesquelles les autres basent leurs jugements moraux.

Résumé

L'hypocrisie implique un souci de la réputation morale qui conduit aà des contradictions entre les actions et les raisons d'agir qui sont ouvertement déclarées, ou entre les raisons d'agir réelles et celles qui sont ouvertement déclarées. On opposera ici les actions hypocrites aux actions velléitaires, et les personnes hypocrites aux personnes velléitaires. Les rapports entre l'intégrité et l'hypocrisie seront esquissés: ce qui distingue la personne intègre et l'hypocrite, ce sont leurs attitudes respectives à l'endroit de leurs raisons d'agir, cela ouvre une voie pour la compréhension de ce qu'il y a de mauvais dans l'hypocrisie. Les supercheries de l'hypocrite font obstacle à sa tentative de se construire pour lui-même une personnalité dans le cadre de laquelle ses identifications autoconstitutives puissent luifournir des raisons d'agir. Il compromet ainsi son propre bien. Et il sape, au surplus, la fin collective de la moralité en faussant les données sur lesquelles les autres basent leurs jugements moraux.

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Notes

1 See, for instance, Crisp Roger and Cowton Christopher, “Hypocrisy and Moral Seriousness,” American Philosophical Quarterly, 31, 4 (1994): 343–49; Kittay Eva Feder, “On Hypocrisy,” Metaphilosophy, 13, 3/4 (1982): 277–89; McKinnon Christine, “Hypocrisy, with a Note on Integrity,” American Philosophical Quarterly, 28, 4 (1991): 321–29; Shklar Judith, Ordinary Vices (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984); Smilansky Saul, “On Practicing What We Preach,” American Philosophical Quarterly, 31, 1 (1994): 7379; Szabados Bela, “Hypocrisy,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 9, 2 (1979): 195210; Szabados Bela and Soifer Eldon, “Hypocrisy after Aristotle,” Dialogue, 37, 3 (1998): 545–70; Szabados Bela and Soifer Eldon, “Hypocrisy and Consequentialism,” Utilitas, 10 (1998): 168–94; Szabados Bela and Soifer Eldon, “Hypocrisy, Change of Mind, and Weakness of Will: How to Do Moral Philosophy with Examples,” Metaphilosophy, 30, 1/2 (1999): 6078; and Turner Dan, “Hypocrisy,” Metaphilosophy, 21, 3 (1990): 262–69.

2 Turner argues that the trait is not universally condemned. I will argue below that although the trait of hypocrisy is always bad, some actions that might be correctly deemed hypocritical can be performed by non-hypocritical persons, and might be, under certain circumstances, justified.

3 Although, as we shall see below, sometimes a weak will prompts other failings, making it possible that someone can be both weak-willed and a hypocrite.

4 See Frankfurt Harry, “Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person,” Journal of Philosophy, 68, 1 (1971): 520.

5 Related to this is the fact that the behaviour of weak-willed persons is not very predictable. We know that they will succumb to specific kinds of temptations, but we are not well placed to predict on which occasions they will succumb. Neither are they. It is in the nature of the kind of loss of agency implicit in weak-willed behaviour that we cannot predict when we or others will be overcome by strong contrary desires. Having a weak will with regard to strong physical desires might seem to provide a counterexample. But the predictions in these cases seem based more on the presence or absence of certain physical facts about the agent's bodily state than on the compellingness or otherwise of any reasons.

6 Shklar argues that hypocrites can be concerned with their reputation in any area in which it is plausible to take that reputation seriously: religion, aesthetics, etc. (Ordinary Vices, pp. 47ff.). Szabados and Soifer discuss the case of Mme. Cambremer's concern with her reputation as a connoisseur of fine art (“Hypocrisy, Change of Mind,” pp. 62–66). Although I think there are interesting affinities between these kinds of cases, I will confine my remarks here to cases of concern with one's moral reputation.

7 See Szabados and Soifer's attempt to revitalize the Aristotelian doctrine of virtues as means between two extremes. They seek—but claim to be unable to find—a neutral description of an action or an emotion, of which hypocrisy can be seen to be an extreme version (“Hypocrisy after Aristotle,” pp. 547–53).

8 See Cowton and Crisp's example of the feigned piety of the parent who wants her daughter to be accepted into the church (“Hypocrisy and Moral Seriousness,” p. 343).

9 For discussions of the lapses of meat-eating vegetarians, see Turner (“Hypocrisy,” pp. 263–64) and Szabados and Soifer (“Hypocrisy, Change of Mind,” pp. 67–69).

10 See Cowton and Crisp's example of the parent who judges other parents harshly for faults he himself possesses (“Hypocrisy and Moral Seriousness,” p. 344).

11 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 2, chap. 6, 1107a 9–17.

12 As we will see below, to the extent that someone chooses to become a hypocrite or to cultivate the vice of hypocrisy, it may well be for the instrumental reason of achieving improved moral status.

13 Szabados and Soifer argue, in the context of trying to ascertain the relations between hypocrisy and integrity, that the claim that integrity and hypocrisy are formal counterparts of one another commits one—wrongly—to the claim that hypocrisy is merely a lack of integrity (“Hypocrisy after Aristotle,” p. 561). Cowton and Crisp appear to suppose that particular pairs of virtues and vices must be exhaustive when they suggest that we should look at the four kinds of hypocrisy they identify as distinct traits and see what virtues a person who lacks each of them might be said to have (“Hypocrisy and Moral Seriousness,” p. 347). Again, one can lack a vice without having the related virtue—even in those cases where there is a related virtue.

14 Ibid., p. 347.

15 Szabados and Soifer, “Hypocrisy after Aristotle,” p. 562.

16 See Taylor G., Pride, Shame, and Guilt (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985), pp. 109–30, and Taylor G., “Integrity,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume 55 (1981): 143–59.

17 Although see Taylor, “Integrity,” p. 158: “[the requirement that needs to be met in order for the person of integrity to keep himself intact] rules out at least the more common forms of moral wickedness which consist in deceitfully manipulating others for one's own ends.” These forms of moral wickedness would include the case of cynical and self-conscious hypocrisy as I have glossed it.

18 Frankfurt, “Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person,” pp. 5–20.

19 Taylor, “Integrity,” p. 157, and Taylor, Pride, Shame, and Guilt, p. 117.

20 This might be the interpersonal version of the problem the ruthless egoist faces: when his first-order desires clash, his second-order desire to maximize his self-interest may have nothing to which to appeal to adjudicate between competing first-order desires except the relative strengths of temporally immediate subjective preferences.

21 See Nussbaum Martha, “Comment on Paul Seabright,” Ethics, 98, 1 (1988): 332–40.

22 Taylor, “Integrity,” p. 128.

23 On this reading, the traits that help permit bank robbers or murderers to be successful would not include the virtue of courage.

24 For these reasons, the unself-conscious hypocrite is not a plausible candidate for the virtue of integrity.

25 See Cowton and Crisp, “Hypocrisy and Moral Seriousness,” p. 345.

26 Kittay, “On Hypocrisy,” p. 287.

27 Of course, there are dangers against which to guard: the isolated actions may become less isolated or become tempting in less circumscribed conditions, or the agent may fail to recognize alternative possible actions, or she may convince herself too readily that the prevailing moral standards are wicked. That the agent may convince herself that her hypocritical actions are justified when indeed they are not does not speak against the possibility of such actions being justified. It does remind us of the care with which we have to make such judgements.

28 I am most grateful to the anonymous referees for Dialogue for their very helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper.

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Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review / Revue canadienne de philosophie
  • ISSN: 0012-2173
  • EISSN: 1759-0949
  • URL: /core/journals/dialogue-canadian-philosophical-review-revue-canadienne-de-philosophie
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