On Moral Hypocrisy and Empathy

Moral hypocrisy is perplexing only when we examine it in others. When we consider our own hypocrisy, we find means by which to justify or exempt whatever the particular offense may be.

It’s only by believing in the concept of an ideal that we can depart from it. In the opposite direction we find Nihilism, a philosophy that abandons the ideal in favor of the somewhat oxymoronic term “absolute relativism,” that is, the notion that ideas matter only in relation to one another rather than some ideal.

Imagine an apple. Unless you’re unaware of what an apple actual is, you can mentally conjure up an image of an apple. In fact, you can imagine a nearly infinite configurations of an apple: small, large, red, green, slightly bruised, misshaped, stemless. Despite the varying characteristics, however, there are inalterable properties that define what an apple is. You could not simply imagine an orange and correctly believe it’s an apple because an orange has characteristics outside the bounds that define an apple.

Like apples, morals also have an ideal (the absolute definition) and approximates forms (the real-world definition). Unlike the ideal, the approximate form exists within an imperfect system (reality) that imposes external factors upon it.

To offer a metaphor, imagine a red ball in a vacuum (ideal) and then imagine that same red ball floating in the ocean (approximate form). The concept of the ball does not change but the real-world conditions force us to consider its characteristics within a system rather than within a vacuum.

Morality should not be allowed to escape this logic even though we are dealing with concepts rather than physical objects. In fact, viewing morals as divine, idealistic properties has only served to divide humanity rather than unite us. Moral empathy (understanding the decisions an individual makes in light of their worldview) should outweigh judgements made based on one’s personal morals.

There is an extremely important caveat: humans are susceptible to irrational beliefs. Irrational beliefs, despite their claims to holy origins, cannot constitute the basis for human morality. This is why orthodox religion is so dangerous: it asserts only idealistic morals and does not tolerate deviance.

Of course, most people do deviate from these ideal morals even if they consider themselves religious. Why? Because they understand that humans can only ever hope to approximate moral perfection as it isn’t actually achievable. The bible even admits as such, stating: “And this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” etc., etc.

Is it any wonder that it’s so difficult to create a universal theory or morality? We’ll probably discover the universal theory of everything before we agree on morals. In the meantime, we should concentrate on empathetically understanding another’s position rather than immediately lambasting it for being different than our own.