How Moral Grandstanding Is Ruining Our Public Discourse

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It's hard not to notice how heated and divided our public discourse has gotten, especially online. People insult and vilify each other, take unnuanced positions, and seem to be competing as to who can seem the most committed to a cause or the most outraged about an issue.

You may have called some of this behavior "virtue signaling," but my guest today says that it's better described as "moral grandstanding," and he's studied the phenomenon not in terms of eye-roll-inducing anecdotes, but through the lens of both philosophy and empirical research. His name is Brandon Warmke, and he's a professor of philosophy and the co-author of the book Grandstanding: The Use and Abuse of Moral Talk. Brandon begins by defining moral grandstanding as the act of engaging in moral talk for self-promotion and status, and explains why he thinks moral grandstanding is a better term for this behavior than virtue signaling. We get into the difference between prestige and dominance status and how moral grandstanding can be used to obtain both types. We then discuss why it's tricky to know if you or someone else is engaging in moral grandstanding, before turning to whether there’s a personality type or a side of the political spectrum that's more likely to grandstand. Brandon then delves into why moral grandstanding isn't just an annoyance on social media, but comes with real costs to society. We end our conversation with what we can do about moral grandstanding.

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