Why Hypocrisy?

  • June 26, 2014 · 7:00 PM

This topic was prompted by a daily radio guest show, “On Point”, hosted by Tom Ashbrook. The show began with…

   “Everyone hates hypocrisy. But, hold on, says one philosopher, we’re all hypocrites. It’s part of being human. We all know hypocrisy when we see it. Say one thing, do another and you’re there. We condemn hypocrites and hypocrisy. Dante, in his Inferno, consigned hypocrites to the eighth circle of hell. And yet, if we’re honest, we can see what a crowded place that would be. Neuroscientists now say we are, as a species, hard-wired for some degree of hypocrisy. For self-deception. Cognitive dissonance. But that’s different than saying it’s okay. If we don’t resist hypocrisy, we’re in a big moral muddle. This hour On Point: the human capacity for hypocrisy, and just how deep it goes.” – Tom Ashbrook

   Show Intro and listener blog comments (text):

   Show (Podcast - hour):  http://audio.wbur.org/download.php?url=http://audio.wbur.org/storage/2014/04/onpoint_0414_hypocrisy-harpers-humanity.mp3

The official guests’ oral comments on the podcast are recommended. Unfortunately, the listeners’ blog posts are of varied value. You’ll have to wade through and weed out those that are better categorized as political or social rants. But then, even those, sometimes, contain insights.

Harper's Magazine article by Clancy Martin, the philosopher guest on On Point: < http://harpers.org/blog/2014/03...­ >... starting at the middle of page 3 ("For Butler, the worse..."), he comments on evolutionary aspects of hypocrisy.


   Hypocrisy < Wikipedia > - The claim or pretense of holding beliefs, feelings, standards, qualities, opinions, behaviors, virtues, motivations, or other characteristics that one does not in actual fact hold. It is the practice of engaging in the same behavior or activity for which one criticizes another. In Moral psychology, it is the failure to follow one’s own expressed moral rules and principles. Evolutionary Note: Recent studies in Psychology have identified the evolutionary bases and the mental mechanisms of hypocrisy, tracing its roots to adaptations that serve contradictory functions in the human brain, and to cognitive biases and distortions that predispose humans to readily perceive and condemn faults in others, while failing to perceive and condemn faults of their own.

   Cognitive dissonance < Wikipedia > - In psychology, the excessive mental stress and discomfort experienced by an individual who:
a. holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time
b. is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.
This stress and discomfort may also arise within an individual who holds a belief and performs a contradictory action or reaction.

Points in Podcast

1. In Moliere's Tartuffe (1664), Tartuffe, the hypocrite, concludes that everyone is practicing hypocrisy.

2. It is suggested that it is a "necessary evil" needed as a "lubrication of life" to facilitate getting along with each other.

3. It has been found that different parts of the brain process different types of issues and can form conflicting beliefs when issues overlap.

4. Are rationalization and irony different forms of hypocrisy? Socrates's feigned ignorance has been characterized as hypocrisy .

5. It seems that we are much more ready to identify hypocrisy in others than ourselves. Is this propensity a "self-esteem building" device (putting somebody down helps you to feel more superior)?

6. Modeling to kids, others? Say uncomplementary things about a person and then greet them as best friends...then chastise kids for lying.

7. Cognitive dissonance is noted.

8. It is suggested that the most insidious forms are those cases when we do not recognize it in ourselves. This can lead to "selective learning" with focus on ["cherry picking"] those "facts" that support one's preconceived belief.

9. Roxanne Roberts, a Washington columnist, finds the most insidious form in the political environment as cases that benefit the speaker/actor, irrespective of intentional or unintentional deception. [A Kantian or Rawlsian "veil of ignorance" requirement.]

Discussion Questions

1. Is hypocrisy something we should worry about? Why?

2. Does hypocrisy serve a useful purpose …or is it just a human reality?

3. How does it relate to one’s self or representation of self? Is it a "wannabe" representation?

4.Is hypocrisy conscious intentional deception of others, or is it just self-deception inadvertently voiced or shown to others?

5. Is ignorance an excuse?

6. Rationalization? Irony? Intolerance? Free riding? Instrumentalism?

7. Gossip?

8. Modeling? Do as I say, not as I do!

9. How does a politician present him/herself when facing a plurality of special interest groups? Would "I'll try my best to take both sides of these issues into account when legislating" persuade anyone, or must she/he promise that he/she will deliver specific outcomes"? Primary? Main election?

10. Writing a donation check - Is it the feeling of satisfaction of writing the check or the observation of the reaching of the goal for which the donation was intended?

11. Media drama...Citizens watch dog, reporters' drive for recognition, or competition for audience.


Join or login to comment.

  • Craig Y.

    I think talking hypocrisy is bordering what a person "really" believes. It is not an easy area to get into, because we sometimes don't really know ourselves. How can we judge other people's psyche? In the aggregate, we can only say how much can I trust the person to do a task if he says he is going to do, by his reputation and my experience with him.

    June 26

  • Carolyn

    Often ignorance can be conveniently claimed while difficult to prove otherwise. And so.... the benefit of the doubt proves a handy fail-safe.

    June 26

  • Craig Y.

    If verbalization is not related to action and if it is self consistent, there is no hypocrisy.
    Hypocrisy is ok if you know what kind of trade-offs you are making between concepts and practice. It is ok.
    But, if you are hypocritical but not knowing it. It edges on ignorance and self-deception. It is dangerous for one's interests. That is:
    If a politician does not know that he lied, he cannot make intelligent decisions in a trade-off analysis to act. On the other hand, If he knows he is lying, then he will be cautious enough not to jump into actions based on his lies, until he knows more.

    June 26

  • Devin

    6,7,8: Pass.
    9: It would be interesting to case study politicians who have tried that approach. I doubt it is a successful strategy; if it were, more would do it. Makes me think of the Lincoln movie quote about what good is true north if you can't navigate swamps/deserts/chasms..
    10: Depends on person and goal.
    11: The drama part of it is mostly competition for audience. The part the consumer is interested in is solely there to do just that: interest the consumer. More interesting = bigger audience = more ad revenue.

    June 26

  • Devin

    This would be a great one for me to finally go to; unfortunately, I have not been feeling well lately. Briefly, to contribute though:
    1: It's better to try not to "worry" about anything, I suppose, but I think if one is trying to live up to one's ideal, one would try not to be a "hypocrit," although I think there are varied forms of the word.
    2: It may serve a learning function. Often it is easy for a person to state what is "right" to do in a given situation, until they actually live the situation. I actually give credit to hypocrites in certain situation, such as George HW Bush raising taxes. It takes a lot of will to do what needs to be done when the times demand it, and you may take a big hit for doing so.
    3: See 1,2. I don't think anyone at their core wants to be a hypocrite.
    4: Could be either, and other forms -- more likely to be unconscious.
    5: We'd have to discuss the idea of blame, but to bypass that, I'd say yes.

    June 26

  • Carolyn

    There are limits. I don't believe in across the board self hypocrisy. I do believe in "to thine own self be true" to the best of our abilities ; a forever work in progress, with frequent audits. Otherwise our "self" becomes nothing more than a washed out version or mass thinking.

    June 25

    • Craig Y.

      I think there are meanings between words. We sometimes overlook them intentionally or unintentionally because of self-interests. Inaccurate ontology is where hypocrisy can thrive.

      June 26

  • Craig Y.

    In Christianity, we behave like spoiled child. Make mistakes and be a hypocrite, after you confess, you can always be forgiven.
    We cannot avoid being a hypocrite living in this gray world. But when you don't know that you are a hypocrite/self deceptive, then you are sliding into ignorance- that is never good.

    June 25

  • Carolyn

    Yes, tolerance, like practicing walking on a tightrope while the crowds are jeering below.

    Interested in this? Thurs Aug 28,Annapolis Cafe Scientifique meets at 49 West Coffee House ; guest presenter/topic follows:

    Dr. Mary Collins, environmental sociologist interested in environmental inequality, defines broadly the inequitable distribution of both environmental privileges and problems across social groups. Conducted her doctoral research in the Bren School of Environmental Sci. & Mgm't at the U. of Calif., studying the socio-political factors and social problems that influence the creation and perpetuation of ecological harm and environmental injustice. At SESYNC, is examining the magnitude and distribution of pollution from individual industry producers in watersheds across the U.S. She investigates how certain groups disproportionately create a majority of environmental harm that in turn disproportionately impacts other groups, often distinguishable by race or class.

    June 23

  • Gene R.

    I just added pointer to Harper's Magazine article by Clancy Martin, the philosopher guest on On Point: <
    ­ >... starting at the middle of page 3 ("For Butler, the worse..."), he comments on evolutionary aspects of hypocrisy.

    June 21

  • Carolyn

    Funny how this topic comes up as just yesterday I ran into an acquaintance and came away with an overwhelming feeling of pretense in the air. On the other hand, I later thought that well it might just be my patience virtue deficiency. Still not sure.

    June 21

3 went

People in this
Meetup are also in:

Create a Meetup Group and meet new people

Get started Learn more

Meetup has allowed me to meet people I wouldn't have met naturally - they're totally different than me.

Allison, started Women's Adventure Travel

Sign up

Meetup members, Log in

By clicking "Sign up" or "Sign up using Facebook", you confirm that you accept our Terms of Service & Privacy Policy