What is virtue signalling?
Virtue signalling is “the conspicuous expression of moral values by an individual done primarily with the intent of enhancing that person’s standing within a social group.” Jesus, while not using the terminology, definitely addresses the concept.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
(Matthew 5:14-16 ESV)
Virtue signalling looks like a moral duty..
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
(Matthew 6:1-4 ESV)
It also looks like the central tenet of hypocrisy.
Which is it?
Doing good deeds publicly with full knowledge that you may be seen is simply part of what it means to be Jesus’ disciple. To seek the good we must, in many cases, be public, and in doing so, this makes the good appealing to those who seek lesser goods or accidentally seek evil.
On the other hand doing good deeds solely for social credit is bad. Most public moral criticism happens this way. We criticize easy moral targets publicly with the hope that people will like us. The internet has made this dopaminergic process available on a mass scale at micro-costs.
- To do good for its own sake (part of ‘the good’ is the reward of knowing God and receiving his promises, btw).
- To do so, we must realize that ‘the good’ is inclusive persuasive actions on the part of sincere actors.
- Therefore, some level of virtue signalling that invites new participants in good behavior, reinforces that behavior in those who do it already, or increases alliances amongst those who practice virtue is virtuous.
- Finally, virtue signaling for hedonic (pleasure seeking) reasons is sinful.
To answer the question, “Is virtue signalling good or bad?” “Yes.”