Saturday 28 April 2018

'Virtue signalling' is an empty insult

At present the universal, public, background-assumption is of a mechanical-random world; and therefore 'the question' is simply about our-selves, how we feel - our happiness, misery etc. For all mainstream discourse the bottom line is psychology: my psychology; especially my feelings. There is nothing deeper.

(What else could it be, in such a reality?)

Other people are - we found, difficult or impossible to deny; they have a big impact on happiness, misery etc; therefore, some account must be taken of them... But 'other people' are ultimately defined in terms of their impact on how-we-personally-feel.

Therefore modern people aspire to social arrangements that gratify them-selves, that which make them feel good, not bad.

Modern people are concerned with 'virtue' insofar as they believe virtue affects their own psychological condition (by assumption, virtue cannot affect ultimate reality, which is indifferent).

Virtue works (or fails) by the attitudes that others have to us - as individuals, and how that makes us feel.

Thus (from these near-universal assumptions) all virtue, all possible virtue, the definition of virtue just-is virtue-signalling. 

Virtue is a social communication that (we believe) will encourage other-people to treat us in such ways that we are more happy and suffer less. 

There is nothing else that virtue could be, even in theory.

So: to accuse a typical modern person of virtue signalling is an empty insult. A modern person cannot conceptualise anything else that virtue could possibly be than 'signalling'.



Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Well, "virtue" could also make you feel better by affecting your own attitude toward yourself -- still psychological, but not "signalling." "Climb a mountain, tell no one" is also an attitude moderns can understand.

William Wildblood said...

I find most modern virtue to be a matter of thought rather than what you actually are. As long as you think straight (really crooked but never mind) all is well. Of course that's an exaggeration but it points to something real. It's the old matter of loving humanity but having no real feeling for individual men and women. Virtue means you are ideologically on side. It's not a question of simple goodness and truthfulness.

Chiu ChunLing said...

Virtue is that which allows us to be better (especially as men) independently of anyone else's opinion of us. Whether it is physical strength, moral fortitude, or natural courage, virtues are real qualities, not social constructs. Therefore I must reject entirely the idea that virtue is nothing more than virtue signaling.

However, it is important to observe that virtue signaling was never intended to be an insult, merely a clarification that the attempt to receive social recognition of one's virtue is entirely distinct from any real virtue one might have or seek. Of course it has been used insultingly, because to point out the difference between pretense of virtue and actual virtue will be taken as an insult by people who only pretend virtue. Once people start taking something as an insult, then it will be used as an insult.

A "PRS 250" vanity plate does not mean you are actually physically strong, nor does the lack of the vanity plate reliably indicate any lack of strength. There are other signals of physical strength (which IS a virtue) which are harder to fake than a vanity plate or bumper sticker, but the signals are not themselves physical strength nor can a lack of physical strength be reliably inferred by the lack of most such signals.

Bruce Charlton said...

Not sure if my intended point came across here...