LYING AND HYPOCRISY IN MORALITY AND POLITICS

  • Ruth W. Grant Professor of Political Science and Philosophy, Duke University.

Abstract

Hypocrisy is necessary in politics, especially in democracies, but while
hypocrisy can facilitate democratic cooperation, lying tends to undermine it. There
are two basic alternative possibilities for how to think about political ethics. The
first begins with universal moral principles that are then applied to politics as well
as to other areas of life. In the second approach, instead, each activity or type of
relationship has its own moral requirements. What is it about politics that makes
hypocrisy and lying either morally legitimate or morally illegitimate? For the first
approach, lying and hypocrisy are vices, whereas for the second, they may be
considered as virtuous under certain circumstances. Hypocrisy is necessary
because political relationships are relationships of dependence among people
whose interests do not exactly coincide. To secure supporters and coalition partners
requires a certain amount of pretense. The case of lying, however, is quite different
due to three additional characteristics of political relationships: cooperation over
time requires trust; accountability requires transparency; and consensus requires
a shared sense of reality. Lying undermines all three. Thus, truthfulness is among
the political virtues even if exceptions sometimes must be made. Today, “post-truth”
politics (“New Lying”), threatens to create a dangerous indifference to the truth and
a cynical, wholesale acceptance of political lying.

Published
2019-05-03
Section
LYING AND HYPOCRISY IN POLITICS AND MORALITY, WITH RUTH GRANT