10 November 2006

Of Taxes and Hypocrisy Part 2

Hello Charles Cherry,
Janet sent you this message from Meetup.com:
Hello Charles,

So, the question was, how do I think that the arguments about taxes in your original letter to the editor constitute hypocrisy?

Well, first we'd better establish just what hypocrisy is.

Here's a sampling of definitions.
1. Hypocrisy: the feigning of beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess; insincerity.
2. Hypocrisy is the act of pretending to have beliefs, virtues and feelings that one does not truly possess. The word derives from the late Latin hypocrisis and Greek hupokrisis both meaning play-acting or pretence. The word is arguably derived from hypo- meaning small, + krinein meaning to decide/to
dispute. A classic example of a hypocritical act is to denounce another for carrying out some action whilst carrying out the same action oneself.
3. hypocrisy: a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not; especially : the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion
4. Hypocrisy: Lip service

But Wikipedia notes:
Truly believing in one's right to a behavior whilst denying others the same right does not fit under the definition of hypocrisy, but should rather be termed as holding a double standard, thus leading to the most common misuse of the word.

Examples of behavior mistakenly attributed to hypocrisy include issuing or enforcing dictates one does not follow oneself and criticizing others for carrying out some action while carrying out the same action oneself.

So there's a little disagreement on the exact application of the word. Perhaps most of interest to you is that Jesus appears to favor definition number two, for passage in Matthew 23 which ends in his famous denunciation of the Pharisees as hypocrites

23:1 Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,
23:2 Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat:
23:3 All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, [that] observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.
23:4 For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay [them] on men's shoulders; but they [themselves] will not move them with one of their fingers.

Also the classic warning against holding double standards that occurs in Matthew 7 begins like this:

7:1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
7:2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured unto you.

And ends with:
7:5 Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.

So, for the purposes of this discussion I will be using the slightly looser definition of hypocrisy (2), which includes the double standard. That is what I had in mind when I wrote the letter, and I think it is certainly generally accepted if not absolutely technically correct.

Had anyone asked me, I would have said that in practical terms hypocrisy reduces to applying different standards to others than one does to oneself, for after all, why proclaim virtues one doesn't possess, if one doesn't expect others to admire them? Clearly a double standard is implicit even there.

Now the term hypocrisy is a social term, one of opprobrium, which is probably why you so strenuously object to it. And I suspect that you read my criticism of your argument as hypocritical as my calling you a hypocrite, which led to your initial accusation of name-calling. In fact I did no such
thing, and your accusation is groundless. The criticism is of your arguments, not you.

Why should the fact that a line of argument violates a social standard undermine it? Well, in most circumstances it wouldn't.

However, if you take the definition of hypocrisy I have
adopted, you see that a hypocritical line of argument in this case is one that takes one position in one instance, and then adopts an opposing position in another instance. In other words, it is a line of argument that is self-contradictory, and
self-contradiction is a fatal flaw. No such argument can stand.

Where does your self-contradiction lie? That's Part Three.