Can Moral Authorities Be Hypocrites?

  • Marcela Herdova
Part of the Philosophy and Medicine book series (PHME, volume 129)


Empirical research suggests that professional ethicists do not exhibit morally better behaviour than other academic professionals (Schwitzgebel and Rust (2010, 2014)). These findings are problematic if professional ethicists are to be considered moral authorities, i.e. those who are mandated—by their (moral) expertise—to give advice on moral matters, and to whose views on such matters we ought to give significant weight. In this chapter, I propose that being a moral authority requires not only knowing the relevant moral facts, but also applying these facts in practice (i.e. acting morally). More specifically, I argue that moral authorities are not hypocrites. That is, if one is a moral authority, one rarely (or never) acts hypocritically—against one’s own good advice to others—but instead, generally, follows one’s own (good) moral advice. As such, those that regularly fail to display morally good behaviour (which they recognize as morally good and prescribe to others) are not moral authorities. This argument rests on two core claims which I defend throughout the chapter. First, if one is a moral authority, then one is a trustworthy source of reliable moral advice. Second, if one is a trustworthy source of reliable moral advice, then one is not a hypocrite. The arguments for the latter rest on considerations about systematicity of moral motivation and the non-trustworthiness of hypocrites.



I would like to thank the editors of this volume, Laura Guidry-Grimes and Jamie Watson for their extremely helpful comments on this chapter. I would also very much like to thank Stephen Kearns for his numerous suggestions on different drafts of this chapter.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marcela Herdova
    • 1
  1. 1.Florida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA

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