Look “Two paradoxes” – republished from 6 years ago

I’ve got two new paradoxes (at least, I think they’re new!) that I hope to write an article about this coming week. Here’s a preview. Remember, folks, you saw ’em first here on Episyllogism!

A note of clarification: ‘paradox’ can mean several different things. Logicians generally use it to mean a statement that cannot consistently be true or false, and English lit. people often use it to mean something surprising. I mean something weaker than what logicians mean and stronger than what literary critics mean. In calling these ‘paradoxes’, I’m saying that they are problems whose obvious solutions seem counterintuitive in one way or another.

The first paradox has to do with morality. I accept all the following claims, and take it that others do as well:

1. More or less nobody entirely follows the moral principles he or she maintains as true.

2. Moreover, it is extremely unlikely that any of us will ever live in accordance with his or her own moral principles.

3. Any intellectually honest and reasonably observant person should be able to see the truth of 1 and 2.

4. To maintain a moral principle that one does not follow and knows that one will almost certainly never follow is hypocritical.

5. It is wrong to be a hypocrite.

6. Therefore, we must resolve the tension either by living up to our moral principles or else abandoning or by watering down those principles.

7. But experience shows that we cannot successfully live up to our moral principles even if we recognize that it would be hypocritical of us not to.

8. Therefore, we must abandon or water down our moral principles in order to avoid hypocrisy.

9 But it is wrong to abandon or water down a moral principle in order to avoid hypocrisy.

It is difficult to see how 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7 or 9 could plausibly be incorrect, and 6 and 8 follow logically from the rest. But clearly, 8 and 9 are in tension.

So what should we do? Maybe we just have to give up on 4 or 5: maybe, that is, maintaining a moral principle that one has excellent reason to believe one will never follow is OK.

Well, suppose you go that way. Then it seems that you should not feel so bad when you fail to live up to your moral principles. But doesn’t this seem worrisome? If you don’t feel bad about violating your own moral principles, then a) it’s not entirely clear what is meant by their being your moral principles and b) regardless, it’s not difficult to see that your commitment to your moral principles will become weaker by your no longer caring as much about failing to live by them, and that certainly would be morally irresponsible on your part.

The second paradox is very similar, but this time the principles in question are epistemic ones. Epistemic principles are the principles that determine whether it’s right or wrong to believe something. If you see that the sun is up, people are awake and walking or driving to work, and your clock says 8:30am, etc., then it would be a violation of basic epistemological principles or norms to think that it’s 11pm. If you know that Nanaimo is part of BC and that BC is part of Canada, it would be irrational for you to believe that BC is not a part of Canada. Those are examples of epistemic norms or principles. But sometimes, we have a difficult time following our epistemic principles. We tend to believe we’re much smarter, more ethical, better at sex, funnier, more reasonable, etc. than most or all of our peers. We tend to remember confirmations of our religious, political, etc. beliefs but forget the problems with them. Psychologists have shown this in study after study. And while we can improve on our epistemic conduct, these problems seem extremely difficult (and probably impossible) to eliminate entirely. So:

1. More or less nobody entirely follows the epistemic principles he or she maintains as true.

2. Moreover, it is extremely unlikely that any of us will ever live in accordance with his or her own epistemic principles.

3. Any intellectually honest and reasonably observant person should be able to see the truth of 1 and 2.

4. To maintain an epistemic principle that one does not follow and knows that one will almost certainly never follow is hypocritical.

5. It is wrong to be a hypocrite.

6. Therefore, we must resolve the tension either by living up to our epistemic principles or else abandoning or by watering down those principles.

7. But experience shows that we cannot successfully live up to our epistemic principles even if we recognize that it would be hypocritical of us not to.

8. Therefore, we must abandon or water down our epistemic principles in order to avoid hypocrisy.

9 But it is wrong to abandon or water down an epistemic principle in order to avoid hypocrisy.


And here we are again!

What’s going wrong in these paradoxes? How can the matter be resolved?

27 thoughts on “Look “Two paradoxes” – republished from 6 years ago

  1. Wouldn’t you say the majority of intellectually honest and reasonably observant people recognize that they are in a constant state of attempting to live in accordance with their own moral principles rather than presuming with certainty that they will always do so?


  2. Thanks, darkfabric.

    Yes, I would definitely say that. The majority of — and maybe all — intellectually honest and reasonably observant people hold to principles and accept that they do not follow those same principles. And they also know that they will almost certainly never follow those principles. All those seem to be good things individually: it seems better to hold good principles than not to; it seems better to know whether you follow them now or in the future than not to know that. But it also seems wrong to be hypocritical or to accept your own hypocricy, and those who accept that they do not follow their own principles and probably never will (but who maintain those principles anyway) seem to be hypocrites. Hence the paradox!


      • Haha! Yes, Bob, I think that’s the most reasonable conclusion. But that’s where the second phase of the paradox kicks in!

        I ought to believe whatever I have most reason to believe. I also ought to do the things I morally (and prudentially) ought to do, and hence (it seems) to shape my character such that I am more likely to do those things.

        Now, if all that is true, and if the most reasonable thing to accept after considering the paradox is that we’re all a bunch of hypocrites, then I should accept that I’m a hypocrite and probably always will be: but that won’t seem so bad, since everyone else is a hypocrite. So the reasonable thing for me to do is to see my hypocrisy as just part of the human condition. My thinking of it that way will, it seems to me, make me more lax in following my principles. On the one hand, I want to take a long road trip; on the other, I realize that I don’t really need to and that my doing so will create needless pollution. But instead of feeling that it’s crucial to adjust my conduct to fit my principles, I (or something within me) can shrug and say, “Ah, there you have it — we’re all hypocrites! It’s the human condition!” End result — my hypocrisy worsens.

        So the truth about our hypocrisy as shown by the first phase of the paradox seems to entail that we should believe something that will shape our character such that we will be less likely to do the things we should do. What do you think?


        • Makes sense; I see how you have connected the two.

          All persons are hypocrites. Therefore, each time I make a choice to act I include in my choice of what to do an assessment of what degree of hypocrisy I must take on if I act in that way. [an episyllogism :-)]


  3. The basic assumption you make is that people are biological logic machines. But that assumption flies in the face of reality. We struggle to do what is right (most of us) but rarely do a kantian logic assessment before acting. Most people think about moral principles after acting and then being questioned – “Why did you do that?” Your paradoxes look like a game and not a real world situation. Good luck with your publication of these games!


  4. Frank,

    This is a spectacular misunderstanding of what I wrote. Did you mean to comment on a different post? I’m confused.

    I do not assume that people are biological machines.

    I do not assume that people do Kantian logic assessments before acting.

    I do not assume anything remotely close to either of these things, and can’t imagine how you could have come to the view that I do.

    Still, I would be very grateful if you would show me where you got these impressions, so that I can make sure that I can eliminate the misunderstanding if it is at all my fault. Thanks!


    • Sorry to piss you off. I hadn’t seen anything from you for so long I forgot how easily you are offended. You strike me as a touch self-centered. Like, “I won’t participate until I want something from you folks.”

      My explanation:
      1. This sort of philosophizing just seems a game to me. My own interests are more toward stopping the Enbridge pipeline than playing with words. Did you read Jim’s entry?
      2. I guess I am not a good reader of analytic philosophy which for the most part seems to be a giant word game. Does anybody read journal articles in philosophy?
      3. But it is good to be spectacular! 🙂 Thanks for that.


      • Frank,

        First of all, I doubt that you’re sorry to piss me off, since you go on to say insulting things. What pisses me off is not that you said something that offended me (I honestly don’t care whether you like my post) but that you were so glib and self-satisfied in your reaction. You already made it clear long ago that you’re not concerned about being consistent or reasonable or dealing with blatant contradictions in your own views, so I can see why a careful examination of contradictions would not appeal to you. But, if I may say so, a refusal to care about one’s own rationality puts one far _below_ the level of serious rational discussion, not above it. Your comments that these paradoxes are merely ‘games’ indicate that you see yourself as looking down on rational discourse in general when really you should be looking way, way up. My annoyance isn’t with you per se, but rather with the fact that you seem to me to be a token of a general range of people with whom I don’t normally interact like this and whose general apathy toward rationality fills me with feelings of doom about the human race and its prospects.

        As for the rest:

        1) Yes, it’s true that I’ve been self-centered of late in an important sense. The reason is that I’m meant to be a professional philosopher but I’m vastly behind on my publications (my publications to date = 0). I’ve been working on my teaching for years and will continue to do so, but I had a bad scare a year or so ago that showed me how fragile my career prospects are if I don’t do something about that. The good news is that I finally have a bunch of things to write up and publish. On the other hand, I’m teaching an unusually high number of courses for those who want to publish. So I’ve become very guarded with my time, which has led to my frequenting this blog very little. I regret that, though, since I really enjoy this blog and want to offer it support in my own small way. So yes, I thought a way to deal with that would be to post something I’m working on here and kill two birds with one stone.

        2) Which is more pressing — my paradox, or a post on the Enbridge pipeline? I’d say the Enbridge pipeline by a long shot, and I’m very grateful to Bob for compiling excellent links about that and other important current issues to which we should all be paying more attention (like the economy and gun legislation in the US). If you’d rather limit your reading to that, then by all means ignore my posts. I’d actually appreciate it, if you have nothing useful or relevant to say about them. Darkfabric and Bob have made helpful comments, but smirky know-it-all bullshit just wastes my time and, as you put it, pisses me of.

        3) You say that analytic philosophy (a slot into which you seem to put my post) seems to be a “giant word game.” This complaint has been repeated over and over again from the 1950s (when it was actually relevant) to today (when it is not remotely). The sort of philosophy I am doing is not in any way limited to analyzing words and their meanings. In fact, not one single thing in my paradox mentions semantics or language at all. I can certainly understand why those who prefer self-confidence over self-consistency would not enjoy thinking very deeply about such matters; but again, it doesn’t seem to add to the discussion.

        4) Does anyone read journal articles in philosophy? Well, I do. But more broadly, how many people read the average academic journal article in any field? I know you mean that question as a pointed bit of mockery, but it seems to suggest that you don’t understand how the system works. If I may:

        First off, let’s look at something that people do read and should read and think about even more than they do: the Enbridge pipeline editorial you mention. The article depends on several claims. For instance:

        a) “Natural gas or methane is CH4. It isn¹t a solution to global warning as it oxidizes to water vapor and carbon dioxide. But it burns over 40% cleaner than oil and 50% cleaner than coal for the same amount of energy produced.”

        b) “[O]ur best hope for the future, economically and environmentally, is to leave that Alberta tar in the ground.”

        c) “Our concern and aim should be to supply Canadian needs.”

        d) “The First Nations of Canada… are most often in the forefront in the places where environmental deterioration and destruction is the greatest. They are the gatekeepers who feel the first effects from the poisoned air and water when industries rape and pillage our children¹s ecosystem.”

        e) “[T]here are many who can¹t vote because they are too young or work for people who don¹t allow them time off from work. The Green Party devote[s] some time to researching these people as well.”

        Now, Frank, where do you think all this information comes from? What do you think makes it reliable? What do you think the Green Party does when it “devotes some time to researching” the people who can’t vote?

        Well, let’s start at the top. We know that CH4 oxidizes to water vapor and carbon dioxide, because people have done research on it and published that research. But that research had to be replicated many times to be accepted as fact, and very, very few people ever read the original publications of the individual experiments. It’s just that, later on, some other scholars did a survey of these journal articles and summarized the results.

        And those original experiments? They could only be done because there was already a large background of chemical theory in which such an experiment could make sense. It was already known that methane is CH4. What does that even mean? It means a molecule made up of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms. But in order to make sense of that, it already had to be known and demonstrated that the atomic model was true in the sense that it is (not in the sense in which it was thought to be through in the 17th century); that earth, air, fire and water are not in fact elements but that carbon and hydrogen is; and so on. But these facts could only be established by a great deal of abstract theoretical speculation and practical research, both of which had to be pursued in the form of thousands of articles and treatises amounting to controversies that could finally be settled by someone patient enough to read lots and lots of things that most of the world at the time considered entirely useless – including some articles that had presumably never been read before by anyone other than their author. That’s where science comes from, Frank.

        b) How can we know what our best hope is, economically and environmentally? These things depend on large-scale models. There are many conflicting models of economics and the environment. They are generally very broad, and they have implications that far outstrip the evidence. In order to assess which one is right, two things are needed: first, a survey of a broad range of research articles on minute subjects that would be of no direct interest to the overwhelming majority of people; and second, a careful consideration of an equally broad theoretical literature including economic modeling via game theory and practical reasoning. That in turn will depend on a number of philosophical articles exploring the nature of rationality, to which my little piece on normative paradoxes is meant to be a very small contribution.

        c) What basis does anyone have for thinking that our concern and aim should be to supply Canadian needs? Well, that depends on work done on another area of normative theory, to which philosophers devote a great deal of attention. How many people will read any of the articles that are published in the journals? Very, very few. How many people will read evaluative summaries of those articles? Very few. How many people will read important contributions to ethical and political theory that rely on those evaluative summaries? Few, but not insubstantially few. And how many people will accept views derived from these books and articles (like A Theory of Justice or On Liberty?) Lots. Finally, how many people will be affected by these ideas in some way? Everyone.

        See how it works now?


  5. justinfromcanada writes: “…those who accept that they do not follow their own principles and probably never will (but who maintain those principles anyway) seem to be hypocrites.”

    My point is this: Do we really accept that we probably will never follow our own principles? I certainly don’t think so. I think we develop principles and for the most part tell ourselves that we have the potential to and therefore “may” end up following them rather than saying we most certainly never will. For doing the latter would surely set us up to become hypocrites.


    • Thanks, darkfabric. I think I understand it now.

      I actually disagree with you about this! I’ll try to argue for my side in two stages: first, one concerning _particular_ norms or principles; then, a stage concerning our norms or principles in general.

      For the first case, I’ll begin with a principle that _I_ hold to be correct (quite possibly _you_ don’t, but I’ll come to that). I think that the amount of money we spend on rather frivolous things is morally inexcusable, given that many people (including young children) are dying of easily treatable disases, the lack of clean drinking water, etc., and that the money we spend on fun things could help them. Much as I wish that that _weren’t_ true, I’m satisfied that Peter Singer and Peter Unger have given convincing responses to all the good objections I can think of. Now, I give _some_ money to charitable causes, and hope to give more as time goes on. But I doubt very much that I’ll ever give to the point where giving more would cause more overall harm than good, which I think may objectively be required. I spend the money on several things: travelling to different cities just for the fun of seeing them, watching ‘Breaking Bad’ exactly when each episode comes out, buying new clothes when my old ones are still usable, etc. I will probably always do things like that. But if I were ever confronted by someone whose husband and children all died of easily curable diseases — a situation, say, that I could have averted by donating $20 — and she asks me why I chose to spend the money on going to see ‘Django Unchained’ and buying some refreshments, I think I’d be too embarrassed to say anything. I know it’s morally suboptimal according to my own principles, and I want to work toward following my principles more fully, but realistically speaking I don’t think I’ll ever succeed.

      If you think that’s a crazy moral principle, then what about the principles you _do_ care about? Most people hold that it’s always wrong to get an unfair advantage through dishonesty, to be secretly unfaithful to one’s romantic partner, to pollute and use up resources frivolously when doing so will almost certainly harm future generations, to support businesses that treat animals inhumanely and seriously harm the interests of some people, etc. But they continue to do those things despite the fact that they know they shouldn’t. People do cut down on them, but probably everyone fails to live up to at least one of those principles.

      I think the second case is even stronger. Take all the moral principles some random has. Now, the odds that that person will ever succeed in following _all_ those rules perfectly is vanishingly small (do you agree?). Some people _think_ they will ultimately follow all their moral principles, but their actual success is a different story.

      So, we end up saying that we _may_ follow all our rules and that we have the _potential_ to do so — just as someone walking across a street in the rain _may_ not get wet because all the raindrops may miss her. But for all practical purposes, I think we can be pretty sure about it.


  6. It sounds like we need to separate ideals from principles.

    You write: “if I were ever confronted by someone whose husband and children all died of easily curable diseases — a situation, say, that I could have averted by donating $20 — and she asks me why I chose to spend the money on going to see ‘Django Unchained’ and buying some refreshments, I think I’d be too embarrassed to say anything. I know it’s morally suboptimal according to my own principles, and I want to work toward following my principles more fully, but realistically speaking I don’t think I’ll ever succeed.”

    You talk of this realistic point of view from which you recognize that you don’t think you’ll ever succeed in following your principles more fully. Yet it seems more realistic to me that there is embedded within such principles an understanding of life as short and not intended by any particular thing for any particular purpose including that of helping others. Perhaps you would follow your principles more fully if this were a perfect world, if conditions were composed of the same perfection from which the principles you speak of appear to be. Unfortunately, it isn’t and they aren’t. Forget selfishness, self-interest, self-involvement, egocentrism, etc., there are external barriers and obstacles in the way of you following such principles at all times in every situation–and I’m not even talking about one’s inevitable transformation into the insufferable monstrosity necessary for adhering to them. Saying that we fall short of these principles you claim people hold and which renders them hypocrites as a result is like someone attempting to wear precious stones on their body but dropping them every time they stand up yet failing to admit that metal rings or necklaces hold such things in place.


  7. Thanks for the further comment, darkfabric. This helps me see how better to articulate the paradox.

    I think my meaning might be clearer if I begin with a non-moral principle (since what I’m saying really applies to more or less _all_ forms of normativity, not just morality). I want to convince you that, on a very plausible account of principles, we do in fact have principles that we often violate.

    Let’s imagine that someone — call him Stu — sincerely comes to believe that smoking cigarettes is bad. He’s quit cold turkey before, and sometimes has stopped smoking for a long time (once for five years). But he’s aware of the fact that he often gets tempted to smoke again, and sometimes this leads to his taking up the habit.

    Now, some smokers might adopt the principle that they — or maybe people in general — shouldn’t smoke _that_ much, or should only smoke from time to time, or something. But not Stu. He actually holds that he ought to stop smoking altogether and permanently: that he should never smoke another cigarette for the rest of his life. He also generalizes this advice to others and advises his children never to smoke. If you were to ask him, “Come on, Stu: do you really want your children to _never_ smoke? Would you really care that much if they smoked only a _few_ times?”, he would say that he really and truly wants them never to have a cigarette. That is what he wants for them and for himself.

    Now, that isn’t to say that Stu wouldn’t be happier with himself if he only _cut down_ on his smoking than if he didn’t cut down at all. Sure, he’d be happier: his life would be closer to the principle he holds to be true. But while he does accept the principle that he should smoke less often, he also holds a very different principle — the principle that he should never smoke another cigarette.

    Here’s another point about Stu’s case: this is a principle that applies to this world, as it is — not some other fantasy world. Stu _doesn’t_ think “Well, if the world were perfect, I should never smoke again; but in this world, I needn’t bother trying.” What he thinks is that he should never smoke another cigarette _in this world_.

    In addition to his smoking principle, Stu holds many other health-related principles. He holds that he should never drink alcohol, that he should eliminate sugary snacks and desserts from his diet, etc. The odds that Stu will actually _follow_ all these principles is basically zero, as he recognizes: but that doesn’t stop him from doing his best.

    Now, Stu gives a talk one day about health. He tells people that they should never smoke. Someone in the audience says, “Here you are, claiming to be perfect — but I saw you at a bar last year smoking a cigarette.” Stu replies, “No, you misunderstand! I never claimed to be perfect. I do break down and violate my principles sometimes. But I do try hard to follow them.” His critic says, “Well then, even you don’t follow your own principles. That makes you a hypocrite!”

    What I’m saying about Stu is that he seems unfairly stuck: it seems that he must either accept the charge that he’s a hypocrite, or else abandon his principle just because he doesn’t think he can live up to it, or else convince himself that he will do something he has excellent reason to believe he won’t do, or else somehow actually live according to his principle, as near-impossible as that is. And all these seem unsatisfactory in some ways.

    I don’t see at all why it’s meant to be like someone who tries to wear precious stones without a necklace, etc.


  8. Or else, embedded within Stu’s principle is the recognition that nothing in life is absolute including his principles. He sees that the precious stones he wishes to flaunt (i.e. following his principles) must in order to remain on his body be fixed to metal rings or necklaces (i.e. include recognition of his limitations, weaknesses, and obstacles).


      • Thanks, darkfabric. This is genuinely helpful to me.

        I see now that I am relying on an assumption I hadn’t stated — but I think it’s a _true_ assumption. You might not. So let me set it out and see what you think.

        My assumption is that there are many cases in which weakening a principle (maybe ‘principle’ was a bad choice of word, but that’s another issue) will amount to a weakening of what one achieves.

        Let’s suppose that Zelda comes to feel that she should adopt a physical training regimen. First off, let’s imagine that he does things the way I have been suggesting: she determines that she should do a 5k run three times per week, together with some rigorous exercises at the gym on three other days. She is very busy, but will make allowances for days she is genuinely too sick to exercise, but not for any other days. If she is too busy, she will take that as a sign that she didn’t manage her time well. And so on.

        Zelda’s belief is therefore that on a year when she isn’t sick, she should do 10k runs on 156 days of the year and work out at the gym on another 156 days. Perhaps she comes very close — she runs 10k runs on 140 days, 5-8k runs on 10 days, doesn’t manage to get herself funning on 6 days when she knows she should have, and skips 25 weekend workouts at the gym. She has still accomplished a great deal, but she fell short of her principles.

        Now, on your view (if I understand you), you’re saying that she should have set more ‘realistic’ goals. What should those be? Well, maybe her principle should be that she should set out to do exactly what she ended up doing on the other scenario. So she should have _resolved_ to run 10k on 140 days, 5-8k on 10 days, and go to the gym 131 times. But then, it seems to me, she’d be quite likely to accomplish even less: on the days she set out to run 5k, she wouldn’t push herself to _try_ to run 10k; on the days she takes off, she wouldn’t be likely to go running at all, etc. And she would rest on those 25 weekends rather than go to the gym. However, on other days whe she _does_ have exercise planned, there would still be a chance that she wouldn’t have the energy or motivation to do or complete the workout. So it seems likely that she would achieve even less. Now, she could build _that_ into her workout plans, but for the same reason that would be very likely to lead to her achieving less yet again. So she could keep on adjusting her principles, but practically speaking, her performance would continue to lower with what she demands of itself. I’m not saying that she could _never_ get her principles so undemanding that she would fail to live up to them perfectly: she probably could. But what I am saying is that the point at which she started living up to her principles perfectly would leave her achieving only a measly fraction of what she otherwise could accomplish: she might run 10k on only one or two days, and 1k or more on only about ten other days, if she insisted on limiting her principles to what she knew she could achieve. Certainly, it would be less than what she would achieve if she kept to her original resolution.

        Another way she could try to be realistic in _your_ sense would be to say ‘I should work out at the gym 3 days per week and run 10k 3 days per week when healthy, except on days when it’s inconvenient or unappealing to me.’ If she followed _that_ principle instead, I’d be surprised if she worked out much at all.

        So what I’m saying is that having demanding principles and beliefs about what you should do is itself a part of the motivation for achieving something close to what those principles demand. Most of us in most cases can only weaken our principles at the cost of substantially reducing what we achieve. If that is not a good thing for you to do, then it would not be ‘realistic’ in the sense I take to be important to weaken your principles.

        There is one other thing one might do: one might hold demanding principles that one sometimes fails to live up to, but be somewhat forgiving of oneself if one fails to achieve them. That is probably the best way to go about it. But it still does involve having principles that one fails to live up to, which is what the paradox requires.

        Thanks again!


  9. Here is a call for papers:
    Cosmopolitanism and Conflict
    John Cabot University, Rome, October 11-13 2013

    Daniele Archibugi (Birkbeck and CNR, Rome)
    Robert Bernasconi (Penn State)
    James Bohman (St. Louis)
    Hauke Brunkhorst (Flensburg)
    Fred Dallmayr (Notre Dame)
    Costas Douzinas (Birkbeck)
    Patrick Hayden (St. Andrews)
    Pauline Kleingeld (Groningen)
    Sankar Muthu (Chicago)

    Contemporary global politics is increasingly marked by conflicts. One thinks of conflicts over institutions and authorities, resources and citizenship, military force and climate change, religion and ideology. Yet prevailing cosmopolitan theories of global politics tend to abstract from conflict, through idealizing presuppositions about rights and authority, rationality and society. This conference therefore proposes to consider the constructive roles that concepts of conflict might play in theorizing global politics. It will focus particularly on how cosmopolitan theories might be enriched and reformulated by such concepts, and thus better respond to the challenges of contemporary global conflicts.
    The conference will consider the significance of conflict for such themes as:
    Cosmopolitan democracy, deliberation, rationality
    Global justice, human rights, liberalism
    ‘Kantian’ universalism, pluralism
    Concepts of conflict, agonism
    Political anthropology, human development
    Religion, (post-)secularism
    War, peace-building, humanitarian intervention
    Environmental change

    Frank – why don’t you submit a paper?


    • Thanks, Bob! I saw a flyer on Stich’s conference a few days ago, and thought it would generate controversy — but I didn’t expect it to start so quickly!


  10. Frank, you need to engage your brain before you type! And btw, a careful analysis of language is not a bad idea at all.

    One of the interesting aspects of this discussion has to do with “hypocrisy” I would think. How does one come to know one is a hypocrite? Seems the hypocrisy would have to be pointed out to one after the fact. Is there a distinction between intentional hypocrisy and unintentional hypocrisy?

    Definition etc from Wikipedia: “Hypocrisy is the state of promoting or administering virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that one does not actually have and is also guilty of violating. Hypocrisy often involves the deception of others and thus can be considered a kind of lie.

    Hypocrisy is not simply failing to practice those virtues that one preaches. Samuel Johnson made this point when he wrote about the misuse of the charge of “hypocrisy” in Rambler No. 14:

    Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practice; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory, as a man may be confident of the advantages of a voyage, or a journey, without having courage or industry to undertake it, and may honestly recommend to others, those attempts which he neglects himself.

    Thus, an alcoholic’s advocating temperance, for example, would not be considered an act of hypocrisy as long as the alcoholic made no pretense of constant sobriety.”


  11. Though I believe I see your point, justinfromcanada, I’m still reluctant to admit the paradox.

    Would you not agree that, though we all understand the concept of a straight line and carry on measuring and calculating as if straight lines do indeed exist, there is in actuality no such thing as a truly straight line? If so, would you not also agree that most of us view principles similarly? Is not life or existence or reality too messy, unorganized, unpredictable, and imperfect not to allow for such a conception of principles? If so again, wouldn’t you agree that the paradox is one created by a language expressive of such ideal concepts rather than one of the people who make use of it to express their less-than-ideal lives? If you’re still with me, could you not also admit that intellectually honest and reasonably observant people, while professing their rules of action or conduct, take into account this apparent contradiction yet blame any appearance of hypocrisy on language?


    • Darkfabric, I hope you’re still reading this and apologize for having taken weeks to reply.


      Yes, I certainly do agree that we all understand the concept of a straight line and I also agree that none of the actual lines we see are truly straight (that is, they aren’t perfectly straight).

      But something funny happens, I think, when we try to apply this to following one’s principles or norms.

      Suppose two people — call them Smith and Jones — accept principles against, say, littering. But they accept two different principles. Smith accepts the principle that — barring some emergency — one should never, ever litter. Jones thinks that, _ideally speaking_, it would be good to follow such a principle. But he also thinks that, realistically speaking, some people are just bound to litter some of the time even if there isn’t a life-or-death sort of emergency that for some reason requires that one litter. Jones’ principle is therefore something like “Aside from a couple of times here and there, don’t litter in the absence of an emergency.”

      Now, I’ll bet you that Smith will end up littering less than Jones! Smith may fall short of his goal, but he’ll feel a sense of regret when he does and search for ways to do better. Jones, by contrast, won’t be too bothered if he litters now and again, which seems to imply that he is more likely to litter.

      My thinking is that it’s more effective to hold to principles like Smith’s, and that most people who hold principles do.


  12. Pingback: Hypocrisy « Episyllogism

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