Pharisee, The Fallacy of the

The assumption that you have higher moral standards than the other person. The form of the argument is: I have no problem in regarding anyone who disagrees with me as motivated by greed, cruelty, lust for power, lack of vision and a compulsion to deceive. Fortunately, I do not myself suffer from these handicaps, so my views on the matter can be trusted as pure, objective and compassionate. How could anyone as nice as me possibly be wrong? There are no limits to what I am justified in doing to promote my case, which is so clearly beyond reasonable challenge.

The remarkable thing about the Pharisee is the ease and comfort with which he believes that the other party is motivated by such horrible things, by the whole range of motivations whose vile nature is itself proof that they explain everything. It is a lonely life for the Pharisee; the world is so full of the wicked, and thinking through a problem consists of the thankless forensic task of identifying the particular kind of deplorable motive that shapes other people’s opinions, and then fearlessly pointing it out. There is no risk of contradiction: if the accused defends herself, she just adds lying to her charge sheet. The Pharisee’s work is never done.

Pharisaism is named after the strict priestly elite who did not compromise with paganism during the Babylonian captivity (597–538 BC)—unlike the Sadducees, who were left behind in Israel and made compromises in the interests of trade and a quiet life. At first, there was a robust courage about the Pharisees’ persistence, but it degenerated into self-regard and the famous mantras, “I thank God that I am not as other men are”, and “Holier than Thou”.

This is probably a moment to have some sympathy for the Pharisee. At least he hasn’t given up. And yet, appearances of purity deceive. You may be able to get more surprising, more interesting truths from unpromising places: blackened churches, shaken by city traffic (for instance), or noisy bars that smell of fish . . .P20

 

O City city, I can sometimes hear
Beside a public bar in Lower Thames Street,
The pleasant whining of a mandoline
And a clatter and a chatter from within
Where fishmen lounge at noon: where the walls
Of Magnus Martyr hold
Inexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold.

T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land, 1922.P19

 

 

Related entries:

Narcissism, Dirty Hands, Humility, Cant, Hypocrisy, False Sameness.

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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was an economist, historian and writer, based in London. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, Lean Logic and Surviving the Future. A film about his perspective and legacy - The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation? - was released in 2019, directed by BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong. For more information, including on Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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