On Virtue-Signaling

I regularly hear people complain about Virtue-Signaling, but I haven’t yet found a balanced attempt to clarify what it is and what it isn’t. Mostly I’ve noticed that people are quick to accuse people outside of their own political tribes of doing it. Without any definitions, how is a fair-minded person to distinguish between appropriate critiques and partisan smears?

Another problem is that I’ve long felt that some virtue-signaling is not actually morally objectionable, but I never see people make distinctions to allow for that. It’s just an accusation, and an inherently irrefutable one at that. I’d like to offer some distinctions between types of Virtue-Signaling with the hope that people will be able to distinguish the objectionable types from the acceptable types. I’ll close with suggestions about how and when to accuse someone of Virtue-Signaling, all with the desired end of helping dialogue to be more productive between parties that disagree.

What is Virtue-Signaling?

Virtue-Signaling is always referred to in a negative way, but given that the term itself is etymologically neutral, my recommended definition is intentionally neutral in order to minimize confusion:

virtue signal
noun

  1. to give an indication that you have a particular virtue (usually, though not necessarily, through a statement).

PODCAST: Is Abortion Justified by an Inalienable Right to Sex?

Download Audio MP3 | 00:10:06

This is a continuation of my previous post “Four Practical Dialogue Tips from My Conversation with Brent.” That piece was focused on specific dialogue strategies I used in that conversation. This one is focused on a major aspect of Brent’s view that we were able to get into in detail: the role of sex, the right to it, and how that interacts with his pro-choice view.

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PODCAST: Four Practical Dialogue Tips from My Conversation with Brent

Download Audio MP3 | 00:14:50

A couple years ago, I had a conversation with a student that I call Brent. This conversation became very useful as a teaching tool. He was a very interesting person and we had a long conversation that allowed us to cover a lot of material. I was also able to test some of my new ideas during this conversation. I wrote two blog posts about my conversation with Brent. This is the first.

Related Links:

  • Click here for the paper De Facto Guardian and Abortion
  • Click here for a speech Josh Brahm gave on the topic of responding to bodily rights arguments

Click here to share the original article.

Click here to subscribe to the podcast in iTunes!

Circumventing Philosophy Hell

Keeping Your Conversations about Abortion Productive

Imagine you’re out hiking with a friend in the beautiful (and fictional) country of Florin, as depicted in The Princess Bride. You’re both clueless tourists but you’ve casually looked at some maps and you think you can handle yourselves. As you’re walking by a ravine, your friend points to a group of trees and says, “Hey, I think if we wander down the ravine and into those trees, we’ll save some time!” You agree, but start to get worried as you notice that what started out as a beautiful forest has turned into a terrifying swamp. Ten minutes later, you are both killed by Rodents of Unusual Size.

Now imagine an alternative scenario. Unlike your tourist friend, you’re a native to Florin, so you know about the parts of the country to avoid, such as the Fire Swamp. When your clueless friend suggests wandering into a dangerous area, you casually redirect him, and you both survive.

A conversation about abortion is surprisingly similar. There are plenty of useful topics to discuss, and plenty of tangents that, while they won’t cause you to get eaten, are really not a good use of time.

Some unhelpful tangents come up regularly because they’re fairly natural responses to some of the arguments I regularly use, and I have learned from experience that some of them should just always be avoided. This post is about a simple but effective way to avoid one in particular.

I am very fond of thought-experiments. I find so much success with them that most of my arguments wind up being backed up by some thought-experiment or another. For instance, if I’m arguing for the personhood of the unborn, I regularly offer the Zoo Shooting:

Don’t Dialogue Like Hamilton OR Aaron Burr

Hamilton

The character of Aaron Burr in Hamilton: An American Musical stands in stark contrast to the title character. Alexander Hamilton is brash, aggressive, tactless, and always reaches for what he wants, while Aaron Burr is polite, careful, and hesitant. When he initially meets Hamilton, Burr encourages him to:

Talk less, smile more, don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for.

Sadly, this line reminds me all too well of some well-meaning pro-life people.

Think of it in terms of a dialogue spectrum. On one side of the spectrum, pro-life people dialogue far too aggressively and tactlessly, and, because of that, they don’t usually persuade pro-choice people. Let’s call this “The Hamilton Approach.”

Many agreeable pro-life people wind up on the other end of the spectrum. They say little of consequence in their conversations, they don’t challenge people, and they just focus on being really friendly. Let’s call this “The Aaron Burr Approach.”

The problem is that the people who take the Aaron Burr Approach don’t accomplish much either. Sure, they’re less irritating than people who take the Hamilton Approach, but they don’t persuade anyone of anything because they’re too meek and cautious.