Moral grandstanding is a pervasive feature of public discourse. Many of us can likely recognize that we have engaged in grandstanding at one time or another. While there is nothing new about the phenomenon of grandstanding, we think that it has not received the philosophical attention it deserves. In this essay, we provide an account of moral grandstanding as the use of public discourse for moral self-promotion. We then show that our account, with support from some standard theses of social (...) psychology, explains the characteristic ways that grandstanding is manifested in public moral discourse. We conclude by arguing that there are good reasons to think that moral grandstanding is typically morally bad and should be avoided. (shrink)
We are all guilty of it. We call people terrible names in conversation or online. We vilify those with whom we disagree, and make bolder claims than we could defend. We want to be seen as taking the moral high ground not just to make a point, or move a debate forward, but to look a certain way--incensed, or compassionate, or committed to a cause. We exaggerate. In other words, we grandstand. Nowhere is this more evident than in public discourse (...) today, and especially as it plays out across the internet. To philosophers Justin Tosi and Brandon Warmke, who have written extensively about moral grandstanding, such one-upmanship is not just annoying, but dangerous. As politics gets more and more polarized, people on both sides of the spectrum move further and further apart when they let grandstanding get in the way of engaging one another. The pollution of our most urgent conversations with self-interest damages the very causes they are meant to forward. Drawing from work in psychology, economics, and political science, and along with contemporary examples spanning the political spectrum, the authors dive deeply into why and how we grandstand. Using the analytic tools of psychology and moral philosophy, they explain what drives us to behave in this way, and what we stand to lose by taking it too far. Most importantly, they show how, by avoiding grandstanding, we can re-build a public square worth participating in. (shrink)
American sociologist Robert Nisbet once described conservatives and libertarians as “uneasy cousins.” The description is apt. While sharing a family resemblance and many of the same political rivals, conservatism and libertarianism are fundamentally at odds. This paper explains why this is so from the conservative perspective. It surveys the starting points and major themes of conservatism and libertarianism. It identifies what conservatives and libertarians agree about. It concludes by showing what conservatives have against libertarianism.
Public discourse is often caustic and conflict-filled. This trend seems to be particularly evident when the content of such discourse is around moral issues (broadly defined) and when the discourse occurs on social media. Several explanatory mechanisms for such conflict have been explored in recent psychological and social-science literatures. The present work sought to examine a potentially novel explanatory mechanism defined in philosophical literature: Moral Grandstanding. According to philosophical accounts, Moral Grandstanding is the use of moral talk to seek social (...) status. For the present work, we conducted six studies, using two undergraduate samples (Study 1, N = 361; Study 2, N = 356); a sample matched to U.S. norms for age, gender, race, income, Census region (Study 3, N = 1,063); a YouGov sample matched to U.S. demographic norms (Study 4, N = 2,000); and a brief, one-month longitudinal study of Mechanical Turk workers in the U.S. (Study 5, Baseline N = 499, follow-up n = 296), and a large, one-week YouGov sample matched to U.S. demographic norms (Baseline N = 2,519, follow-up n = 1,776). Across studies, we found initial support for the validity of Moral Grandstanding as a construct. Specifically, moral grandstanding motivation was associated with status-seeking personality traits, as well as greater political and moral conflict in daily life. (shrink)
The present work posits that social motives, particularly status seeking in the form of moral grandstanding, are likely at least partially to blame for elevated levels of affective polarization and ideological extremism in the U.S. In Study 1, results from both undergraduates (N = 981; Mean age = 19.4; SD = 2.1; 69.7% women) and a cross-section of U.S. adults matched to 2010 census norms (N = 1,063; Mean age = 48.20, SD = 16.38; 49.8% women) indicated that prestige-motived grandstanding (...) was consistently and robustly related to more extreme ideological views on a variety of issues. In Study 2, results from a weighted, nationally-representative cross-section of U.S. adults (N = 2,519; Mean age = 47.5, SD = 17.8; 51.4% women) found that prestige motivated grandstanding was reliably related to both ideological extremism and affective polarization. (shrink)
Moral grandstanding, or the use of moral talk for self-promotion, is a threat to free expression. When grandstanding is introduced in a public forum, several ideals of free expression are less likely to be realized. Popular views are less likely to be challenged, people are less free to entertain heterodox ideas, and the cost of changing one’s mind goes up.
In his paper “Fairness, Political Obligation, and the Justificatory Gap” (published in the Journal of Moral Philosophy), Jiafeng Zhu argues that the principle of fair play cannot require submission to the rules of a cooperative scheme, and that when such submission is required, the requirement is grounded in consent. I propose a better argument for the claim that fair play requires submission to the rules than the one Zhu considers. I also argue that Zhu’s attribution of consent to people commonly (...) thought to be bound to follow the rules by a duty of fair play is implausible. (shrink)
In this paper we explore the relationship between forgiving and punishment. We set out a number of arguments for the claim that if one forgives a wrongdoer, one should not punish her. We then argue that none of these arguments is persuasive. We conclude by reflecting on the possibility of institutional forgiveness in the criminal justice setting and on the differences between forgiveness and acts of mercy.
There is an emerging consensus among political philosophers that state legitimacy involves something more than—or perhaps other than—political obligation. Yet the principle of fair play, which many take to be a promising basis for political obligation, has been largely absent from discussions of the revised conception of legitimacy. This paper shows how the principle of fair play can generate legitimate political authority by drawing on a neglected feature of the principle—its stipulation that members of a cooperative scheme must reciprocate specifically (...) by submitting to the scheme's rules. (shrink)
In contemporary political discussions, it is depressingly common to see people criticized for expressing impure beliefs. Moreover, those who sometimes defect from their tribe are criticized for failing to be firmly enough on the side of the angels. We consider explanations for this behavior, including its relationship to moral grandstanding. We will also argue, on both moral and epistemic grounds, in favor of a norm against “blocking the exits.” We should not use social pressure to discourage people from publicly changing (...) their minds. (shrink)
The principle of fair play is widely thought to require simply that costs and benefits be distributed fairly. This gloss on the principle, while not entirely inaccurate, has invited a host of popular objections based on misunderstandings about fair play. Central to many of these objections is a failure to treat the principle of fair play as a transactional principle—one that allocates special obligations and rights among persons as a result of their interactions. I offer an interpretation of the principle (...) of fair play that emphasizes its similarities to another transactional principle: consent. This interpretation reveals that playing fair requires one to reciprocate specifically by following the rules of the cooperative scheme from which one benefits, just as consent requires one to act according to the terms of an agreement. I then draw on the comparison with consent to reply to some popular and persistent objections to the principle. (shrink)
The present study aimed to understand how status-oriented individual differences such as narcissistic antagonism, narcissistic extraversion, and moral grandstanding motivations may have longitudinally predicted both behavioral and social media responses during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Via YouGov, a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults was recruited in August of 2019 (N = 2,519; Mage = 47.5, SD = 17.8; 51.4% women) and resampled in May of 2020, (N = 1,533). Results indicated that baseline levels of narcissistic antagonism (...) were associated with lower levels of social distancing and lower compliance with public health recommended behaviors. Similarly, dominance oriented moral grandstanding motivations predicted greater conflict with others over COVID-19, greater engagement in status-oriented social media behaviors about COVID-19, and lower levels of social distancing. (shrink)
The philosophical literature on state legitimacy has recently seen a significant conceptual revision. Several philosophers have argued that the state's right to rule is better characterized not as a claim right to obedience, but as a power right. There have been few attempts to show that traditional justifications for the claim right might also be used to justify a power right, and there have been no such attempts involving the principle of fair play, which is widely regarded as the most (...) promising basis for a claim right to obedience. William Edmundson argues that the principle of fair play cannot generate power rights, and so any attempt at a fair play account of legitimacy must fail. I explain how fair play could generate a power right, owing to its stipulation that the rules of a cooperative scheme specify the form of participants' repayment. (shrink)
This chapter presents David Foster Wallace's views about three positions regarding the good life—ironism, hedonism, and narrative theories. Ironism involves distancing oneself from everything one says or does, and putting on Wallace's so-called “mask of ennui.” Wallace said that the notion appeals to ironists because it insulates them from criticism. However, he reiterated that ironists can be criticized for failing to value anything. Hedonism states that a good life consists in pleasure. Wallace rejected such a notion, doubting that pleasure could (...) play a fundamental role in the good life. Lastly, narrative theories characterize the good life by fidelity to a unified narrative -- a systematic story about one's life, composed of a set of ends or principles according to which one lives. Wallace believed that these theories turn people into spectators, rather than the participants in their own lives. (shrink)
Basic income policies have recently enjoyed a great deal of discussion, but they are not a natural fit with views of distributive or social justice endorsed by many moral and political philosophers. This essay develops and defends a new view of social justice, called relational sufficientarianism, which is more compatible with a universal basic income. Relational sufficientarianism holds that persons in a just society must have sufficient social status, but not necessarily equal social status. It argues that this view offers (...) a more plausible account of just social relations than relational egalitarianism, a better account of the threshold for sufficiency than distributive sufficientarianism, and can serve as a more suitable theoretical backing for a universal basic income than either of these other views, or distributive egalitarianism. (shrink)
Every year, millions of students in the United States and around the world graduate from high school and college. Commencement speakers—often distilling the hopes of parents and four years of messaging from educators—tell graduates that they must do something grand, ambitious, or far-reaching. Change the world. Disrupt the status quo. Every problem in the world is your problem, awaiting your solutions. -/- This book is an antidote to that advice. It provides a clear-eyed assessment of three types of people who (...) tend to believe and promote a commencement speaker’s view of the world: the moralizer, who imposes unnecessary social costs by inappropriately enforcing morality; the busybody, who thinks the stranger and close friend merit equal shares of our benevolent attention; and the pure hearted, who equates acting with good intentions with just outcomes. The book also provides a bold defense of living an ordinary life by putting down roots, creating a good home, and living in solitude. A quiet, peaceful life can be generous and noble. It’s OK to mind your own business. (shrink)