Is calling out hypocrisy really a logical fallacy?

It’s considered a form of ad hominem attack to call your opponent hypocrite by pointing out that he does not follow the ideas that he preaches.

I tend to believe that it’s not true and pointing to hypocrisy is indeed a valid criticism of the idea itself, despite logically it’s not. The missing part is the unknown information. I mean the World is complicated and there are many factors that can be relevant, yet not considered.

For example if I claim that camping in a particular forest is a good and healthy hobby, we can all be oblivious to the fact that it’s full of ticks and high percentage of them are carrying Lyme disease. My reasons can be all true and logical and yet my conclusion is wrong. Camping in that forest is ill advised.

By acting according to an idea, we necessarily face these things. If I camped in that forest myself, me or my companions would be infected by Lyme disease. This way I would know better to advocate for camping there.

Sure, it’s not a guarantee, one can be knowledgeable about it without being there or just get lucky and camp without ever seeing a tick. However the fair position is to openly disclose that you did not camp in that particular forest and your advise is based on generic camping knowledge about similar forests.

Not camping in a forest you talk about is not real hypocrisy. A real hypocrite preaches for something he acted against. Like preaching for monogamy while he cheats. Or preaching for fair play while he … cheats. These cases he willfully hides whatever problem caused him to violate the idea, therefore willfully misinforms people about the problems. It is very possible that if he’d disclose the problem he encountered, the conclusion would be different. For example the game is broken and it’s impossible to complete a level without cheating with some characters. But he hides it and preaches “git gud”, while no amount of getting good let you pass the broken part.

Sure, the idea can be true even if the preacher is faulty, but it’s also possible that the idea is broken and the lies makes the impression that it works. I believe unmasking a hypocrite is a valid form of criticism, not to invalidate the person or the idea, but to force the inclusion of the problem into the debate. I mean if the guy talks about how l33t he is for beating that game that no one could and you unmask him cheating, he might admit that after hundreds of hours he couldn’t get past a particular challenge. This can be added to other reports about that particular challenge as evidence that it’s indeed broken, leading to a fix. Please note that the game being buggy doesn’t disprove the idea of “better performance helps winning games”, but it helps with that particular game.

We shouldn’t judge the hypocrite, but we must ask him: “what problem made you go against the principle?”.

Author: Gevlon

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3 thoughts on “Is calling out hypocrisy really a logical fallacy?”

  1. Due to the complexities of life and social interaction, it is virtually impossible not to contradict yourself in some fashion, during the course of day-to-day life. In fact I would go so far as to say that if you wish to successfully navigate the choppy waters of society, you positively have to at times say one thing and then subsequently do another. We tell children not to lie, yet we’ll happily say to another adult “no, you don’t look fat in that outfit”, even when it is patently untrue. Therefore, we will all be guilty of some form of hypocrisy at some point or another.

    Like everything in life, hypocrisy is contextual, nuanced and far from a binary situation. Thus, calling out someone over a minor act of hypocrisy is not really a worthwhile pursuit. For example, berating a friend for excessive drinking when you did the same yourself last week (or something equally as low-level and trivial), is petty pointless and hardly a revelation. I think that hypocrisy can only successfully be invoked as a valid form of criticism when it is levelled against a much more substantial transgression. Like the politician that advocates something and is then subsequently discovered to be doing or benefiting from the complete opposite. I would agree that your example of the “l33t” gamer also valid.

    Another aspect about hypocrisy is that it’s often falsely claimed. Changing one’s mind is a perfectly acceptible state of affairs. “When the facts change, I change my mind” said John Maynard Keynes. It is perfectly normal to change ones position on a subject or revise ones view on a complex issue, once you’ve discovered more about it. Often this is labelled “hypocrisy” but it is not. Are we all hypocrits because we no longer belive in the tooth fairey or Santa Claus? Or to give a gaming example, using gold sellers and then coming to terms with the fact that often the gold you buy is gained by the hacking of accounts or exploitation of the game environment. Such an alteration of opinion is not hypocrisy.

    Finally, the problem with invoking claims of hypocrisy in any argument, is that it will always immediately bring about reciprocal claims. If I call out another blogger as a hypocrite, I’m sure they’ll spend hours trawling through my previous posts and tweets trying to find any instance of me contradicting myself. Such activities detract from intelligent debate and simply indulge in a variation of “whataboutery”. So if we look at hypocrisy as a card to play in the course of a discussion, then it needs to be played wisely and tactically.


  2. Hypocrisy goes to character.

    I care, somewhat, when a gamer/blogger makes a hypocritical statement, it means that I will more closely scrutinize what they have to say about certain subjects, and I will not continue to interact with that gamer or continue to read his/her blog if the level of hypocrisy rises to a level where it is being used to drive an agenda, or if ignorance/stupidity is actually at play. Past behavior is a good indicator of future behavior. I’ve known several WoW players over the years who have claimed to know a boss fight inside and out, only to die multiple times from standing in the fire and then have the gall to yell at others for doing the same damn thing. I don’t tolerate things like that, and choose to distance myself from those types of people rather quickly.


  3. Hypocrisy is not an argument, it is a form of a verdict, mostly used to dismiss the discussion altogether. From your writing, i expect that by calling the person a hypocrite, you expect them not only to just agree with the notion that their conclusion is hypocritical, but to also then do the work of “my conclusion is hypocritical, therefore i must reexamine my process”. That’s often a bit too much to ask even if you are talking to someone who knows you and thinks well of you, much less out of anyone less close.
    The path of “what made you go against the principle” is more productive, but even then you might run into an answer along the lines of “i didn’t go against the principle, your understanding of the principle is wrong”. And, hey, maybe you really didn’t hear what the person had to actually say. Happens to the best of us.


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