My exposure of the Dictionary Fallacy was not intended to cast doubt on the utility of dictionaries. Far from it. Some of their entries are excellent starting points for philosophical inquiry. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, hypocrisy is "assuming a false appearance of virtue or goodness, with dissimulation of real character or inclination, especially in respect of religious life or belief." As a lexical definition, that is hard to beat. Having been handed the OED ball, however, I now run with it. What the philosopher wants is a theory of hypocrisy. That will almost certainly involve a precisification of the lexical concept along with an adjustment of the concept so that it coheres with the concepts of other moral phenomena in the vicinity such as lying, self-deception, 'bullshitting,' bad faith, insincerity, and what all else.
The first point to be made is that a person who is occasionally hypocritical is not a hypocrite, any more than a person who has lied or been drunk a few times is a liar or a drunkard. The hypocrite habitually assumes a false appearance of virtue or goodness, etc. The hypocrisy of the hypocrite is therefore a vice, where vices are a species of habits and habits are dispositions of persons.
What I want to explore is the taxonomic notion that hypocrisy is a vice of self-presentation. Accordingly, the genus vices of self-presentation divides into various species, one of which is hypocrisy. But perhaps we should back up a step or two. To be a self at all is to be involved in self-presentation. Now one's presentation of self to others and to oneself can be more or less honest or sincere or 'authentic.' (The scare quotes indicate that I am a bit skeptical of the jargon of authenticity, to borrow Adorno's title Jargon der Eigentlichkeit.) This suggests a distinction between morally acceptable and morally unacceptable modes of self-presentation, and perhaps even a distinction between virtuous and vicious modes of self-presentation. Self-presentation thus divides into virtuous and vicious species with each of these dividing into various subspecies, with hypocrisy being one of the subspecies of vicious self-presentation. Of course I am not saying that all vices (or virtues) are vices (or virtues) of self-presentation.
Gluttony is an example of a vice which is not a vice of self-presentation. The glutton habitually eats in substantial excess of the requirements of health and (perhaps) conviviality. (Suppose you are at a gathering where the hostess has gone to considerable trouble to present a lavish 'spread.' That is not the occasion to practice abstemiousness. Just by showing up at the party you incur an obligation of sorts to be sociable, which may justify a bit of overeating.) But the glutton, in overeating, does not falsely present himself or represent himself as morally better than he is. Strictly speaking, he is not engaged in self-presentation at all; he is merely stuffing his face. He can do this on his own: he has no need for others to misrepresent himself to. The same goes for the lazy bones. Asleep on the bed of sloth, he is not in the business of self-presentation.
So there are vices which are not vices of self-presentation. And it seems clear enough that hypocrisy is a vice of self-presentation. The hypocrite presents himself to others (and perhaps also to himself) as other than he is, as morally better than he is. My question is: Are there vices of self-presentation other than hypocrisy?
The other day I mentioned hypocrisy in reverse. Let's review that notion. One sort of hypocrite fails to practice what he preaches. By preaching, he presents himself to others as one who honors certain values or virtues or demands. But by failing to make an honest attempt at living in accordance with what what he preaches, the hypocrite dishonors in his life what he honors in his talk. It is this discrepancy that constitutes him a hypocrite. But what should we say of the person who does not preach what he practices?
Suppose a person manifests in his behavior such virtues as honesty, frugality, willingness to take responsibility for his actions, ability to defer gratification, respect for others, self-control, and the like, but refuses to advocate or promote these virtues even though their practice has led to the person's success and well-being. These hypocrites-in-reverse owe much to the old virtues and to having been brought up in a climate where they were honored and instilled; but they won't do their share in promoting them. They will not preach what they themselves practice. And in some cases, they will preach against, or otherwise undermine, what they themselves practice.
Here too is a discrepancy between practice and preaching, except that what is absent in the hypocrite in reverse is not the practice of virtues preached, but the preaching of virtues practiced. What is honored in such a person's life and practice is not honored in his talk and profession. But in this case the person is not making himself out to be morally better than he is. He is not feigning virtues he lacks but concealing virtues he has. My point is that we should not call such a person a hypocrite even though we can rightly tax him with a vice of self-presentation.
A second way to fall into hypocrisy is by saying publically what one doesn't believe. Plenty of this goes on among the spokesmen for organized religion, among politicians, and among the paid shills of business interests. Corresponding to this there is the reverse phenomenon of not saying publically what one believes. In some cases this is a morally dubious form of self-presentation: once conceals one's true beliefs, one fails to 'stand up' for what one really believes. We all engage in such dissembling from time to time. We go along to get along. What we have here is a privative mode of self-presentation. We reveal ourselves by way of concealing certain aspects of ourselves. It is not easy to say when reticence and self-concealment are morally acceptable and when not. Sometimes we ought to be reticent in the interests of comity and tolerance. Other times it would be wrong to be reticent.
We have here the phenomenon of competing values. Tolerance is a value, but so is forthrightness. They are values that often collide, especially in the pluralistic societies of the West. In the spirit of tolerance, I may hide my disgust at your morally obnoxious opinions. But in so doing I dissemble. If your opinions are sufficiently obnoxious, however, I will be justified in denouncing you and your ideas in no uncertain terms. Then I leave off dissembling but sin against tolerance.
Suppose one is reticent in the interests of comity and tolerance when it comes to (what one sincerely believes to be) some grave moral wrong such as partial-birth abortion. I claim that one does not thereby exhibit hypocrisy, even though one is dissembling and wrongfully. For one is not presenting a false appearance of moral probity, but doing something quite different, namely, presenting a false appearance of acquiescence, if not endorsement, of views one finds morally obnoxious.
Much more can be said, but I think I have said enough to show that hypocrisy is only one type of morally unacceptable self-presentation. Hypocrisy-in-reverse, in both of the two modes distinguished, is a second type. But I need a better name that 'hypocrisy-in-reverse.'