Grandstanding: The Use and Abuse of Moral Talk

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Oxford University Press, May 15, 2020 - Philosophy - 248 pages
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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.

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User Review  - AstonishingChristina - LibraryThing

The authors describe the use of public moral discourse for personal gain/status enhancement, etc. They call this "moral grandstanding, as opposed to "virtue signaling" (which they consider problematic ... Read full review


1 Moral Talk Is Not Magic
2 What Is Moral Grandstanding?
A Field Guide
4 The Social Costs of Grandstanding
5 Grandstanding and Respect
6 Would a Virtuous Person Grandstand?
7 Politics as Morality Pageant
8 What to Do About Grandstanding

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About the author (2020)

Justin Tosi is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Texas Tech University. He works on moral, social, political, and legal philosophy.

Brandon Warmke is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Bowling Green State University. He writes about ethics and politics.

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