Hypocrisy Is the Tribute That Vice Pays to Virtue: Meaning

At first glance, the phrase “hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue” might seem completely incomprehensible. Hypocrisy is an abstract concept, so how can it do the action of paying tribute to, well, anything?

If you’re curious about the meaning of this bewildering little phrase, read on!

Hypocrisy Is the Tribute That Vice Pays to Virtue – Meaning

“Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue” essentially means that, if you are being hypocritical, i.e., by trying to appear virtuous while secretly engaging in the vices you outwardly condemn, it shows that you believe virtue is admirable and something worth imitating, even dishonestly.

hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue meaning


  • “Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue” means that, by being hypocritical and trying to appear virtuous even though you aren’t, you are proving that virtue is admirable enough to imitate.
  • This phrase is a quote by French Author La Rochefoucauld.
  • You could use the phrase in political discourse about the hypocrisy of those in power.

To explain this phrase, we’ll need to unpack all of its aspects. Firstly, the Cambridge Dictionary defines “hypocrisy” as:

  • a situation in which someone pretends to believe something that they do not really believe, or that is the opposite of what they do or say at another time.

“Tribute” is defined as:

  • something that you say, write, or give that shows your respect and admiration for someone, especially on a formal occasion.

“Vice” means “a moral fault or weakness in someone’s character”, and “virtue” is defined as “a good moral quality in a person, or the general quality of being morally good”.

So, this phrase is essentially saying that if you have a “vice” or character flaw but try to appear as if you have good moral qualities, this means that you see virtue as something admirable enough that you would attempt to imitate it.

In this way, your hypocrisy is an expression of admiration or a “tribute” to virtue. Even though you are not virtuous, you admire virtue and want to be seen as virtuous, nonetheless.

Hypocrisy Is the Tribute That Vice Pays to Virtue – Origin

It was originally the French author, François de La Rochefoucauld, who said this phrase. It comes from his book entitled Reflections; or Sentences and Moral Maxims.

These sentiments have since been quoted in the context of political discourse. For example, Christopher Hitchens, a British-American author and journalist made use of a similar version of this quote during a debate, stating “hypocrisy is the compliment that vice pays to virtue”.

Hypocrisy Is the Tribute That Vice Pays to Virtue – Similar Quotes

There are a few quotes that express similar sentiments to the statement by La Rochefoucauld. It appears that many intelligent people agree that hypocrisy is a testament to the inherent goodness of virtue.

  • The only vice that cannot be forgiven is hypocrisy. The repentance of a hypocrite is itself hypocrisy. (William Hazlitt)
  • In England the only homage which they pay to Virtue – is hypocrisy. (Lord Byron)

Phrases That Mean the Opposite of “Hypocrisy Is the Tribute That Vice Pays to Virtue”

Because the phrase means that, in being hypocritical, you are proving the value of virtue, quotes that mean the opposite of this would express vastly different sentiments about hypocrisy:

  • Hypocrisy is the ultimate power move. It is a way of demonstrating that one plays by a different set of rules from the ones adhered to by common people. (Michael Shellenberger)

Correct Ways to Say “Hypocrisy Is the Tribute That Vice Pays to Virtue”

As the original quote was in French, there are a few correct variations of this phrase:

  • Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue
  • Hypocrisy is the compliment vice pays to virtue
  • Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue

Incorrect Ways to Use “Hypocrisy Is the Tribute That Vice Pays to Virtue”

Some readers have misinterpreted this phrase as meaning that the more tempting a vice is, the more virtuous one must be in order to resist this temptation.

Remember, though, that the quote actually comments on how inherently good virtue is. It is so good that even the morally corrupt wish to emulate it. You should not use this quote to express the power of vices. Nor should you use it to compliment those who are too virtuous to succumb to said vices.

In What Situations Can You Use “Hypocrisy Is the Tribute That Vice Pays to Virtue”?

You can use this phrase to critique hypocrites while reinforcing the fact that virtue is a quality we all aspire to.

This statement often comes up in political contexts, and you can use it in debates about the hypocrisy of political and religious leaders in the world.