From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"Only animals who are below civilization and the angels who are beyond it can be sincere. Human beings are, necessarily, actors who cannot become something before they have first pretended to be it; and they can be divided, not into the hypocritical and the sincere, but into the sane who know they are acting and the mad do not." --The Age of Anxiety (1947) by W. H. Auden
Hypocrisy is the state of promoting or trying to enforce standards, attitudes, lifestyles virtues, beliefs, principles, etc., that one does not actually hold and may even regularly violate. Hypocrisy often involves the deception of others and is a 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 believes it.
The word hypocrisy comes from the Greek ὑπόκρισις (hypokrisis), which means "jealous", "play-acting", "acting out", "coward" or "dissembling". The word hypocrite is from the Greek word ὑποκρίτης (hypokritēs), the agentive noun associated with υποκρίνομαι (hypokrinomai κρίση, "judgment" »κριτική (kritiki), "critics") presumably because the performance of a dramatic text by an actor was to involve a degree of interpretation, or assessment.
Alternatively, the word is an amalgam of the Greek prefix hypo-, meaning "under", and the verb krinein, meaning "to sift or decide". Thus the original meaning implied a deficiency in the ability to sift or decide. This deficiency, as it pertains to one's own beliefs and feelings, informs the word's contemporary meaning.
Whereas hypokrisis applied to any sort of public performance (including the art of rhetoric), hypokrites was a technical term for a stage actor and was not considered an appropriate role for a public figure. In Athens in the 4th century BC, for example, the great orator Demosthenes ridiculed his rival Aeschines, who had been a successful actor before taking up politics, as a hypocrites whose skill at impersonating characters on stage made him an untrustworthy politician. This negative view of the hypokrites, perhaps combined with the Roman disdain for actors, later shaded into the originally neutral hypokrisis. It is this later sense of hypokrisis as "play-acting", i.e., the assumption of a counterfeit persona, that gives the modern word hypocrisy its negative connotation.
Hypocrisy and vice
Although hypocrisy has been called "the tribute that vice pays to virtue", and a bit of it certainly greases the wheels of social exchange, it may also corrode the well-being of those people who continually make or are forced to make use of it. As Boris Pasternak has Yurii say in Doctor Zhivago, "Your health is bound to be affected if, day after day, you say the opposite of what you feel, if you grovel before what you dislike... Our nervous system isn't just fiction, it's part of our physical body, and it can't be forever violated with impunity."
The over-attribution of hypocrisy, however, could lead to excessive tolerance of deceit and destructive behavior.
Jung on the General Hypocrisy of Man
Every individual needs revolution, inner division, overthrow of the existing order, and renewal, but not by forcing them upon his neighbors under the hypocritical cloak of Christian love or the sense of social responsibility or any of the other beautiful euphemisms for unconscious urges to personal power (Jung, 1966:5).
It is under all circumstances an advantage to be in full possession of one's personality, otherwise the repressed elements will only crop up as a hindrance elsewhere, not just at some unimportant point, but at the very spot where we are most sensitive. If people can be educated to see the shadow-side of their nature clearly, it may be hoped that they will also learn to understand and love their fellow men better. A little less hypocrisy and a little more self-knowledge can only have good results in respect for our neighbor; for we are all too prone to transfer to our fellows the injustice and violence we inflict upon our own natures (Jung, 1966:par. 28).
In New Paths in Psychology (1916) Jung pointedly referred to the "hypocritical pretenses of man".
Dream-analysis above all else mercilessly uncovers the lying morality and hypocritical pretences of man, showing him, for once, the other side of his character in the most vivid light (Jung, 1966:par. 437).
Jung omitted this characterization from his later essay On the Psychology of the Unconscious (1943), which developed out of the former.
- Double standard (conflated)
- Moral absolutism
- Moral relativism
- Reciprocity (social and political philosophy)
- Golden rule/ethic of reciprocity
- Tartuffe (play by Molière)
- The Mote and the Beam
- The pot calling the kettle black
- Tu quoque
- Woes of the Pharisees
- Jung, C.G. (1966). Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, Collected Works, Volume 7, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-01782-4.