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Virtue Signaling


Explanations > Values > Virtue Signaling

escription | Example | Discussion | So what?



Virtue signaling is the process of publicly indicating one's virtue. In particular this involves showing that the speaker conforms to social values, for example in supporting environmental causes or helping the vulnerable.

Ways virtue may be signaled include:

  • Talking about good things you have done.
  • Criticizing others who have broken social values.
  • Saying how they hate immoral actions, newspapers, etc.
  • Talking in support of moral causes.
  • Volunteering in non-profit organizations (then talking about it).
  • Helping others, particularly when others can see this noble action.
  • Letting a gossip know of one's good deeds, who will likely talk to others about this.

The general purpose of virtue signaling is to gain the esteem of others and thereby increase one's social status. It may be done by elevating oneself or even by criticizing others.


A parent helps out at their child's school. They make sure they do this in events when other parents are there, making ostentatious displays of being busy and organizing others.

At work, a person stays late. They see a manager walking across the office. They grab a pile of papers and contrive to 'accidentally bump into' the manager. In subsequent conversation they note that they are working to meet deadlines. The manager looks impressed.


In some social contexts, the term 'virtue signaling' has become common as an attack that itself attempts to place the accuser in a higher social position than the person accused of virtue signaling. In effect, the accusation is of deceit of the worse kind, of pretence and using vulnerable others for selfish gain. This is the general effect of moral judgement, that a person 'takes the high ground' as they act as prosecutor, judge and jury in denouncing others for their immoral actions.

Using signals is a common means of communication across many species, from bacteria onwards. With signals we tell others that we like them, that we are not to be crossed, and that we are worthy of their friendship. Virtue signaling makes use of this common channel.

A variant on Virtue Signalling is 'Conspicuous Conservation' where people try hard to show how they are concerned for the environment, for example by driving electric cars and having solar panels on the front of their house (even if it points away from the sun).

The phrase 'Virtue Signaling' was originated by journalist James Bartholomew in The Spectator magazine in April 2015.

So what?

To look good to others, let them know how good you are. Be very careful in this as it may make you appear callous and arrogant. A good way to appear virtuous is simply to do good things and let others be your voice.

See also

Vulnerability and Values, Conspicuous Consumption


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