Maxims

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Runciman, David.Political Hypocrisy: The Mask of Power, from Hobbes to Orwell and Beyond. Princeton University Press: Woodstock, 2008

Hypocrisy is a subject that lends itself to maxims--Rochefoucauld's Maxims is sometimes taken to be the definitive text on the subject--and it is to maxims that we often look to discover the timeless truth about what it is for a politician to dissemble and deceive. Truths tend to look more timeless when they come in neat little packages. But these maxims, almost by definition, are taken out of context (Rochefoucauld's book, for example, is about French courtly hypocrisy and its relationship to Jansenist philosophy). Of course, context isn't everything, and there may be times when philosophers wish to abstract away from the circumstances in which ideas were first generated. (p.14)


Maugham, W Somerset. A Writer's Notebook, London: William Heinemann LTD, 1940.

Maxims of the Vicar.

  • A parson is paid to preach, not to practise.
  • Only ask those people to stay with you or to dine with you, who you can ask in return.
  • "Do unto others as you would they should do unto you." An excellent maxim--for others
  • He always answered the contentions of the temperance people by say that "God has ordered us to make use of the things in this world, and he exemplified his rely by keeping himself well supplied with whisky and liqueurs, which, however, he kept carefully locked up in the sideboard. "It is not good for all people to drink spirits, he said, "in fact it is a sin to put temptation in their way; and besides, they would not appreciate at their their true value."

(These observations fell from the lips of my uncle who was Vicar of Whistable; I took them seriously, but looking back on them now, I am inclined to think that he was exercising at my expense a humor I never suspected him of possessing.)

  • Reading does not make a man wise; it only makes him learned.
  • Respectability is the cloak under which fools cover their stupidity.
  • No action is in itself good or gad, but only such according to convention.

(SM, WN: 1-2)


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