Hypocrite good reasons are still good reasons.



In previous posts (here and here), I have written about tu quoques, also known as “appeals to hypocrisy” and “whateverisms” using as examples the common criticisms that commonly accompany public displays of solidairty, concern, attention, etc. over some tragedies -- like the attacks in Paris this month –– and not over others –– like the recent, bomgings in Ankara. But it is not only tragedies that bring tu quoques into public discourse. A couple of weeks after the attacks in Paris, in a very tight electoral race, Argentina elected conservative candidate Mauricio Macri to the presidency. In one of his first public statement after the elections, he promised to request Venezuela to be ejected from the regional free trade association Mercosur, because of human rights violations. In reaction, former president of Uruguay, José Mujica, criticised Macri by saying “It's easy to criticize Venezuela but there are also many other places to criticize. [For example] They just killed four mayors in Asuncion, Paraguay, right next to him." [My translation].

[Contrast Mujica’s reaction to Ecuador’s current socialist president Alejandro Correa who also reacted to Macri’s statements by denying the human rights violations the Argentinean president-elected appealed to in his original statement. Correa is rejecting one of Macri’s premises, while Mujica is not.]

I have argued that in tu quoques, one is not [only] criticizing the arguer for being inconsistent, but mostly criticizing him for not being forward about his or her real motivations. In the Macri-Mujica debate, for example, the former president is not rejecting the importance of human rights or denying that human rights are violated in Venezuela, but criticizing Macri for being dishonest about his real reasons for wanting Venezuela out of Mercosur. The current government in Venezuela is socialist, and so was Pepe Mujica’s governement in Uruguay, while Macri is a staunch pro-business conservative and Paraguy has also a coservative president. This is a sharp difference remarkably salient in the context of both Mujica and Macri[‘s statements. Thus, Mujica is implicitly criticising Macri for hiding his ideological reasons behind a façcade of a concern for human rights. According to Mujica’s argument, if Macri actually cared for human rights he would also be requesting the exclusion of other members where human rights are being violated, like Paraguay, but he isn’t. Therefore, he does not actually care about human rights. 

We can call this a matter of hypocrisy in so far as Macri is being duplciitous regarding his actual motivations. As B. Jones has recently explained, hypocresy takes place when a person violates one of the two conditions that define the virtue of authenticity: “(1) consistently upholding the values and commitments that define one’s identity for reasons that one deems legitimate, and (2) a second-order commitment to accurately represent these values and commitments” (Jones 2015, 2) In other words, authenticity involves both a first-order commitment to consistency and a second-order commitment to sincerity. Consequently, one can be a hypocrite either by being inconsistent or duplicitous. Traditional accounts of tu quoques focus on inconcistency and thus, on the first level commitment, but this paints an incomplete picture of what is happening in cases like this. In contrast, I think that, in order to understand what is at issue in tu quoques like these, the most important part is the second-order commitment, that is, the commitment to accuracy in presenting one’s viewpoint.

But now I have problems trying to justify why I think this second-order commitment, that is, the commitment to accuracy in presenting one’s viewpoint is an argumentative virtue. 

In order to better see the importance of this second commitment for virtuous argumentation, adopting a pragma-dialectical approach might be very helpful. In the pragma-dialectical theory of argumentation, one can conceive of fallacies as violations of rules for critical discussion, that is, actions that derail critical discussion, for example, by showing lack of commitment to collaboratively resolve a difference of opinion purely on merits. Consequently, for an ad-hominem to be non-fallacious, it has to aim at criticizing one of the arguers for either being incapable or not willing to collaborate on pursuing the discussion’s goal, that is, the resolution of the difference of opinion on the merits. I take it that non-fallacious tu quoques achieve this by showing the opponent is not being forward in his or her real reasons for holding an opinion. In other words, from a pragma-dialectic perspective, tu quoques of this sort criticize arguers for misrepresenting their actual standpoint, for as van Eemeren et.al. write, “the overall goal of the discussion ––– resolving the difference of opinion on the merits –– can only be reached if the difference of opinion has been clearly brought to light” (van Eemeren et.al. 2012, 350). Thus, one who is duplicitous regarding one’s viewpoint is not collaborating to reaching the discussion’s goal. [In van Eemeren’s terms, non-fallacious tu quoques criticize their opponents for making a fallacious move in the confrontation stage of the discussion].

One can question authenticty as a genuine virtue in argumentation. After all, there is lot of debate surrounding the question of whether hypocrisy is an actual vice in political discourse (for example, Jones 2015,  Runciman 2008, Williams 2002). Some people think that reasons for doing or believing something are not important as long as the action is right and the belief is otherwise justifiable. As Saul Alinski puts it, “with very rare exceptions, the right things are done for the wrong reasons. it is futile to demand that men do the right thing for the right reason –- this is a fight with a windmill (Alinky 1971, 76 quoted in Jones 2015). This means that if we care for human rights, we should not criticize Macri, for even if he is motivated by ideological reasons, he is still doing something good: holding Venezuela accountable for human rights violations. Hypocrite good deeds are still good deeds. Hypocrite good reasons are still good reasons.

So the paradox is the following: We have, in general, good reasons to value sincerity and decry hypocrisy in argumentation and good reasons to not care about sincerity or hypocrisy in tu quoques. Sincerity is important in argumentation because we cannot debate with someone who is not forthcoming about his actual standpoint. Sincerity in tu quoques is not important because if one cares for the quality of the reasons behind a position, then if good reasons have presented for an opinion, it does not matter if those reasons are actually motivating the person presenting them. Again, hypocrite good reasons are still good reasons. So, pursuing the idea that tu quoques are ad hominems leads us to a paradoxical situation.

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