I think this must be a cognitive error of some kind. I just now read the phrase, "the hypocrisy of the left", and it occurred to me that hypocrisy is a moral action, which can be taken only by a moral agent, ie, a person. And "the left" (or "the left wing" or "the political right") are not persons; they don't have stable personalities, they're not moral agents, they can't engage in hypocrisy.

Is there a word for this kind of error, calling on a (usually ill-defined) group of people to exhibit a stable personality and moral accountability?

Single-word request requirements:

  • Sample sentence: "You get an F for your paper entitled 'The Sins of The Right', because it's based entirely on a cognitive error known as homunculus-ex-vulgus."
  • Not being sure where to start with a dictionary or thesaurus, I've tried googling misattribution of moral agency and cognitive error moral agency, also group single personality; I went through 50 Common Cognitive Distortions on Psychology Today. I haven't found anything that even sounds similar.
  • My criteria for choosing the best word: If it's a clinical or technical word, then I guess the best word would be one that literally means what I'm talking about. If metaphor is the only thing available, I guess the best word would be the most neutral-sounding, the least baggage, the kind of word that wouldn't put people on the defensive.
  • Words I've considered: honestly, homunculus-ex-vulgus fallacy is the only thing I've come up with.
  • A compound word or phrase is fine. Cheers

P.S. I would be most grateful for any feedback concerning the downvotes.

  • The hypocrisy of the left, as far as I immediately took it to mean, refers to the political left. In other words, liberalism. (In the US, it would be represented by members of the Democratic party). Think left-wing politics. I'm curious how you got the notion that "the left" is talking about something else. Or that "the left" would have anything necessarily to do with a stable personality or morality (any more or less than "the right"). What is the source of your quote? Jun 15, 2019 at 6:07
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    I don't think that's a cognitive error, so I doubt you'll find a term for it.
    – user339660
    Jun 15, 2019 at 6:09
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    You could call it personification of the group, I suppose... but I don't think the kind of unity you see as being presupposed by words like intend is to be found at the level of the individual either. IMHO intention is always an abstraction and you are seeing a difference of kind when there is only a difference of degree.
    – user339660
    Jun 15, 2019 at 6:58
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    That group is a moral agent. That's what political parties are. That's why they are formed in the first place and how they define themselves (and denigrate each other). They have stated positions on moral issues such as human rights issues and social security payments and medical treatment access. What they aren't is an arbitrary group of people. They are people who have sought to become members because of the moral issues.
    – Phil Sweet
    Jun 15, 2019 at 11:00
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    It's a particular type of stereotyping. 'The left' is a metonym meaning 'those people having left-wing inclinations / views ...' with 'left' in the political sense being a well known metaphor. Stereotyping involves hyperbole ('the left' implying 'all those people who can in any way be considered to be associated with any left-wing views ...'). // The whole exemplifies the Fallacy of Composition (faulty induction) which infers that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is manifestly true from some part of the whole. But that truth doesn't need to be unsavoury. Jun 15, 2019 at 15:22

1 Answer 1


I believe you are looking for the term metonymy, a word or phrase that represents a thing, or concept. The expression ‘the left‘ simply stands for [members/supporters of] the left wing [political party].

Other examples of metonymy,

Crown - in place of a royal person
We will swear loyalty to the crown.

The White House or The Oval Office - used in place of the President or White House staff
The White House will be making an announcement around noon today.

Heart - to refer to love or emotion
My dear, you have all of my heart.

Dish - for an entire plate of food
That fancy fish dish you made was the best of the evening.

Source: Your Dictionary See also Merriam-Webster's explanation.

Whether or not you agree that members or supporters of the left are hypocrites that is a separate political issue.

  • Oh my, I worded my question so badly. I have misled you and another commenter in the same wrong direction. I've edited my original question. I realize that when I said "this concept makes no sense," I didn't stop to mention exactly which concept I was talking about. I would welcome your thoughts on the revised question. Cheers Jun 15, 2019 at 8:30
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    The answer is "prejudice" @GreatBigBore The question is much clearer now, thanks. I might leave this answer up as a warning to other users :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 15, 2019 at 8:32
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    +1 The choir sang is understood to mean that the members of the choir sang. Or the board of directors didn't like your presentation is understood to mean that members of the board, collectively, didn't like your presentation. Jun 15, 2019 at 8:38
  • I'm so sorry, I'm really blowing this whole thing. I'm talking about, for example, placing moral accountability on "the political left", which is what it means to say "the hypocrisy of the political left". I'm talking about treating this arbitrary, nebulous group of abstract people as though the group itself is a moral agent. Am I making any sense? Jun 15, 2019 at 8:44
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    @SaganRitual I think your use of the phrase "a cognitive error" to describe what some pundit called "the hypocrisy of the left" is a misnomer, and I also think you are mixing up language, logic and philosophy. :)
    – Lambie
    Jun 17, 2019 at 13:57

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