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Philosophy Cafe - Cafe Philosophique Message Board › Your Last Word on HYPOCRISY

Your Last Word on HYPOCRISY

Jeff G
Ulrich
Oakland, CA
Post #: 12
This thread is really a bulletin board, not a discussion. If you wish to post your personal response to the "exit question" that we use to conclude our meetings, it is welcome here. Please keep the length down to one, self-contained paragraph (brevity is the soul of wit). If after further contemplation your views change, then edit your post: that is why it's called "the last word"!

The consensus take-home question was "Must one be conscious of the discrepancy between one's avowed beliefs and one's actions in order to be considered guilty of hypocrisy?" Psychologically speaking, does self-deception excuse the hypocrite? Legally speaking, does hypocrisy, like fraud, require intent?

Jeff G
Ulrich
Oakland, CA
Post #: 14
The habit of comparing behavior–anybody's behavior–to beliefs seems to be a basic impulse in humans. Let's call it the critical reflex. It is easy to imagine that the critical reflex, linked to sanctions, could be an important tool in developing culture. That is, someone gets an idea in their head that the world (other people, that is) should be a certain way, and they let you know about the discrepancy when they see it. I've observed this in children as young as four years of age. Of course, when children exercise the critical reflex we laugh, but if it is exercised by someone in authority–say, the king–it's often expedient to change your behavior. Various mechanisms might help this process of conformity along, such as paying attention to others and modeling their behavior. Some of these mechanisms are bound to highlight the fact that the king himself does not conform to his own beliefs (after all, they originated as beliefs about the world around him, not necessarily including him.) Thus the archetypal case of the king supports Samuel Johnson's point of view after all. Indeed, if the critical reflex is to give rise to new behavior, then the first critic will often be in violation of his own promoted norm. This short-circuits the question, because if the discrepancy between belief and action does not define hypocrisy, then consciousness of it must be irrelevant.
Max
mmaaaxx
Oakland, CA
Post #: 24
Ha, the king has no clothes! wink
Jeff G
Ulrich
Oakland, CA
Post #: 113
In preparing to debate whether the San Francisco ban on public nudity should be lifted, this question I felt needed to be addressed:

Is it hypocritical for gays to ask society to expand its concept of marriage, but then resist a similar re-evaluation of its attitude toward public display of the unclothed body?


It certainly looks as though the issue of legalized public nudity in San Francisco really is about hypocrisy. It may be on the part of gays, who don't seem to be extending the same consideration to nudists that they are asking of the general public in wanting to marry. Given that the only people reported to be availing themselves of the public nudity law are in the Castro, the hypocrisy may be on the part of its residents, displaying a not-in-my-backyard attitude toward what is acceptable "in principle." Ultimately, though, hypocrisy does not invalidate moral claims: something can be right to do even if no one manages to do it, or wrong even if everybody does it. Even though hypocrisy does increase our sensitivity to the possibility of insincerity, or lack of insight, on the part of those promoting an idea, that idea should nevertheless be evaluated on its own merits. However...arguments for and against public nudity parallel very closely arguments for and against same-sex marriage. For example, the notion that rights equality should extend to all individuals would imply that people should not be prevented from wearing what they want (even if nothing), just as they should be able to marry whom they choose (even if the same sex). Yet, one never wishes to rely solely on a legal argument (for one thing, laws change). Culturally, the idea that the state has an interest or obligation to promote stable families would imply nothing in either example, as the determination of what promotes stable families is dependent on many other assumptions, mainly derived from morality. If we wish to apply the state interest argument, we have to admit some moral facts into consideration–but these selections will differ between the two cases. The case of marriage rests on the primacy of paternity (e.g., whether families need biological fathers) and therefore, ultimately, on property (because rich males prevail in the contest for mates). The case of nudity, in contrast, rests on even deeper notions of shame, cleanliness, and self-control, firmly located in the individual by St. Augustine–though obviously humans had been wearing clothing for a very long time before him. The current moral climate questions patriarchy, which has cast doubt on the moral facts needed to condemn same-sex marriage, but a similar challenge to the moral facts supporting corporeal modesty would have to come from atheists or pagans, who lack sufficient influence. (We might even trace the source of the rights argument back to the Founding Fathers' ambivalent theism.) Thus, what the nudity debate in San Francisco reveals is not hypocrisy per se, but merely a sly acknowledgment that, despite the legal strategy pursued before the Supreme Court, what backers of same-sex marriage really want is to wrest the institution of marriage from the control of males, to untangle it from the idea of property...but they are not interested in undoing the notions of guilt, pollution, or temptation that both backers and opponents share. That is, marriage has become the latest battleground in the war between the sexes, and, as every battleground needs rules, these points of agreement will be upheld. Certainly one could view this as confirmation of gays' enthusiastic membership in bourgeois society. The impression that some foul has been committed persists, however, because the argument seems to have changed from one of individual liberty to the common good. Whatever the causes, or justifications, for that shift, people do not like opportunism and its implication that they have been subjected to "tactics." This devaluation of public discourse, in a nutshell, is why people denounce hypocrisy: against our own inclinations, we accepted a principle favorable to your cause, and now you are making us look like dupes by ignoring it. Worst of all, we thought we were merely tossing you scraps from the "big table," but now we see that you insist on playing the adult hypocrisy game as equals. C'mon, now–we really only went along with you because we secretly hoped to witness you squirming next to the naked guy on the bus!
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