Is virtue signalling a perversion of morality? | Aeon Ideas

A recent essay by Neil Levy in ‘Aeon Ideas’ asks: Is virtue signalling a perversion of morality? Here’s my answer.

From hypocritical priests and preachers to conspicuous displays of environmental concern, virtue signalling has always been part of our nature. Whether or not we are good, most of us instinctively understand the value of being seen to be good.

In my opinion, virtue signalling, interpreted as the conspicuous exhibition of virtuous behaviour for the purpose of increasing one’s own perceived value, is indeed a perversion of morality. But not all instances of moral grandstanding have a selfish purpose. Some may be intended as an honest attempt to increase public acceptance of a particular honestly held moral value. This is not in my opinion a perversion of morality (although it may, if ineptly done, be counterproductive as a result of looking like virtue signalling).
The accusation of virtue signalling may often be either virtue signalling itself and/or an attempt to divert the topic of discussion. But that is not always the case. For example the accusation of virtue signalling may be raised against one with whom we agree about the claimed virtue of the behaviour in question but whom we suspect of hypocricy in their own motivation (and so perhaps whose behaviour is undermining rather than supporting public acceptance of the position).

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