Hypocricy and Moral Growth

The Maverick Philosopher has written two posts on Hypocricy entitled (appropriately enough Hypocricy and Addendum to Hypocricy. The crux of the message is this: we have been misusing the term "hypocrisy." A hypocrite, according to Dr. Vallicelli, is:

. . . one who espouses high moral standards, but makes little or no attempt to live in accordance with them. He is one who pays ‘lip service’ to high ideals, by ‘talking the talk,’ but without ‘walking the walk.’ Someone who talks the talk, walks the walk, but stumbles a lot cannot be justly accused of hypocrisy.

In the Addendum to Hypocricy blog, he points out that -- contrary to a anti-drug commercial airing regularly right now -- it is not hypocritical to tell your children that it is not okay to smoke pot even though you smoked pot when you were younger. A working definition of hypocricy must allow for moral change.

Dr. Vallicelli is absolutely correct. If anyone does something as a younger person that they now (in their later years) recognize was an error and not good, does that mean that that person is hypocritical to tell others that it was a mistake and that they should not engage in the same activity? Any definition of hypocrite that disallows a person from advocating the changes that they learned from their mistakes is necessarily defective. If it weren't defective, anyone who shows moral improvement is a hypocrite if they advocate others learn from their mistakes simply because they did the bad thing in the past themselves. For example, in such a case, a reformed alcoholic or drunk driver could not tell others that drinking is bad without being a hypocrite. That would be ludicrous.

Moreover, it seems to me that the "pro-condom" crowd in sex education are playing off of this fear of hypocricy. The argument, in part, for the distributions of condoms is that "kids will engage in sex, and you did, too, when you were younger." The idea is that, in part, to tell kids not to do what you did when you were younger is hypocritical. Yet we know from various studies that pre-marital sex can be a very bad thing for young people (old people, too). So even if I engaged in such sex when I was a teenager, does that mean that I am foreclosed from telling my kids that it was a mistake from which I learned because to do so would make me a hypocrite? No. I reject any idea of hypocricy that does not allow for moral growth and you should, too.


BK said…
I should add that the erudite Melinda Penner over at the Stand to Reason blog had a short piece on hypocricy in the church. You can find it at:

I have yet to see anything written by Ms. Penner that wasn't worth the time to read and consider.

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