Michael says, “Mr. Smith claims that he is not an Anglican, nor does he wish to become one, for he does not agree with Anglican doctrine. But wait a minute! Didn’t Mr. Smith give a substantial donation to an Anglican church last year? So he disagrees with Anglican doctrine and yet hypocritically supports an Anglican church with his finances. He certainly is inconsistent.”
While it may seem that Mr. Smith’s actions are hypocritical, the fact that a year has gone by since he donated the money to the church gives him more than enough time to change his mind. Even if he really did believe in Anglican doctrine a year ago, the fact that he has since changed his mind does not make him hypocritical. However, let us suppose that he has always disagreed with Anglican doctrine, even when he supported the church with his finances. Would that make him a hypocrite? Perhaps, but not necessarily. If Mr. Smith gave his money to the church because the church was taking the money and using it to help people, such as feeding the poor and homeless and/or helping people get free from drug addiction, then he was not necessarily agreeing with the church’s doctrine. He was simply supporting a good work.
Jill says, “You should not go to my church because what they teach is wrong. They are very dogmatic and rude towards those who disagree with them.”
Jennifer replies, “How can you say that??! You have been going to that church for 20 years and you still attend.”
By Jill’s suggestion that Jennifer avoid the church which she herself still attends, it is tempting to conclude that Jill is being hypocritical. However, this may not necessarily be the case. Perhaps Jill attends the church, not because she agrees with their doctrine, but because all her family and friends go there. She may in fact disagree with the church’s doctrine, but not want to sever her family relationships. While we may believe that she should still find a new church more in line with the doctrine she accepts, the fact that she continues to attend the church does not necessarily make her hypocritical. In addition, even if she was being hypocritical, that alone does not make her statements about the church’s doctrine and atmosphere false.
Stephen says, “I just finished listening to a lecture by professor Little. It is his opinion that the doctrine of the Trinity is mistaken. I felt he has some good arguments to support his conclusions. What do you think about his beliefs?
Jason replies, “Professor Little is a serial adulterer who has been married four times and is not even married to the two women he lives with currently. Therefore, I reject his belief that trinitarianism is mistaken.”
While most would agree that it is not good that Professor Little has behaved the way he has, his personal misdeeds and failings have no bearing on whether his argument is true or false. If Jason is going to reject professor Little’s arguments, he must do so with good arguments of his own. Rejecting professor Little’s position due to his personal faults is committing the Tu Quoque fallacy.
The Bottom Line: Hypocrisy and inconsistency do not automatically negate an argument someone is making. To assert that it does is a logical fallacy.