In Praise of Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy definitely isn’t the best option available for a person, but I believe it might be the second-best. And sometimes we have to settle for second-best while we’re striving for what is actually best.

You’ve probably heard the saying: hypocrisy is the compliment that vice pays to virtue. This means that a perfectly good person will not only praise virtue but also act virtuously, whereas a hypocrite will only praise it, and will not always do it.

Good personHypocriteBad person
Acts virtuously?YNN
Praises virtue?YYN

My greatest goal is to be a perfectly good person, but in the meantime, I settle for being a hypocrite.

There was a time when I hesitated to praise virtue, because I was not yet virtuous myself, and I didn’t want to be hypocritical. What I didn’t realize was that the problem with hypocrites isn’t that they encourage people to do and love what is good.

I thought at that time that it was better not to speak well of virtue, rather than to be a hypocrite. In my mind, it was best to be a good person, second best to be a plainly bad person, and worst of all to be a hypocrite.

My thinking has shifted.

I’m more virtuous now than I was then, but of course I am still not perfectly good. At this time, though, I see my shortcomings and vices as something for me to conquer, rather than as something that has the power, or the right, to silence my love of virtue.

I do love virtue, and I praise it, and I love the praise of it.

That’s the best thing about us hypocrites. Even though we haven’t attained to virtue, we do know that it deserves to be praised, and praised far more highly than the other things that are normally objects of desire, things like reputation or wealth or pleasant feelings.

There’s a reason this is my first post. I wish to reflect on, and to honour, virtue, in future posts. I accept it as true when Socrates proclaims that “The greatest good of man is daily to converse about virtue.”

But that doesn’t mean I’m perfectly virtuous myself. I am not, although I am working on it. Until then, this is the blog of a self-aware and self-professed hypocrite. I hope you’ll join me.

PS: I imagine some readers will think that I have been imprecise in my classifications above, and this may be true. See below for a somewhat more exact scheme; on this grid, I think that what is possible for all of us, wherever we might be on our journey, is to be a good hypocrite, and that what is blameworthy is to fit in the bad hypocrite column, although even then I think it might be preferable to be a bad hypocrite than a straightforwardly bad person.

Good personGood hypocriteBad hypocriteBad person
Acts virtuously?YNNN
Tries to act virtuously?YYNN
Praises virtue?YYYN