In “Moral Grandstanding,” Justin Tosi and Brandon Warmke defend the following account of moral grandstanding (MG):
(1) to MG is to participate in moral discourse out of the desire to be regarded by others as moral (with the desire for moral recognition or recognition desire (RD) being strong enough that, if one were not to be recognized as moral, one would be disappointed; and one acts from this desire via the proper conventionally-determined sort of “grandstanding expression”).
They also argue that
(2) MG is morally bad because acting on a (strong enough) RD, at least in the ways characteristic of moral grandstanding, frustrates the ends of moral discourse (specifically the end of improving moral beliefs – and hence also the end of moral improvement).
[Link to paper: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/papa.12075/full ]
T&W defend  by arguing that their account, in conjunction with established research results in social and moral psychology, explains why types of behaviors that we regard as paradigmatic types of MG (piling on, trumping up, ramping up, claims of self-evidence, etc.) are indeed instances of MG. They defend  primarily through claims about specific effects of the paradigm types of MG that frustrate the aims of moral discourse in various ways.
My interest is in  and  and the problems that I see with these claims and the questions that the topic of moral grandstanding raises. I’m not so interested in T&M’s specific defenses of  and  because I think the problems I raise and questions I address are more important (and might render their defenses of  and  moot or ill-framed).
T&M’s paper was discussed on the PEA Soup blog a little while back. In that discussion, and also in conversation with me, Derek Bowman (who co-hosted the discussion) raised the following two related problems (among others): (a) RD criteria (including the particular would-be-disappointed criterion T&W favor) seem to count too many things as grandstanding and (b) acting on RD does not always seem to be a problematic motivation in moral discourse (because it can be part of moral pride and part of expressing or achieving solidarity in a group of people engaging in moral causes or activities). Irfan Khawaja and I discussed this paper as well over several evenings (several months ago) and Irfan had similar criticisms (he argued, more strongly along the lines of [b], that RD is never, in itself, a problematic motivation).
[Link to PEA Soup discussion: http://peasoup.us/2017/08/philosophy-public-affairs-discussion-pea-soup-justin-tosi-brandon-warmkes-moral-grandstanding-critical-precis-c-j-tony-coady/ ]
Picking up on [b], I don’t think that T&W have picked the right motivation as the relevant problematic motivation. They are concerned that moral grandstanding turns participation in moral discourse into a vanity project or a status-seeking project. These worries are, I think, broadly on-target and definitely important. We need to distinguish
seeking accurate/deserved recognition for being moral out of healthy moral pride or from the desire to be an inspiring or otherwise good team player in a moral cause (and perhaps out of or from other morally good or morally benign mindsets)
seeking that others believe one to be moral from vanity or out of social-status competition motivations (and perhaps from or out of some other morally bad or dubious motivations or mindsets).
As T&W stress in defending their view, the landscape of motivation (and intention and belief) here is complicated!
Consider the following intrinsic (non-instrumental) desires:
(i) to be seen as moral by certain others (regardless of whether one actually is moral)
(ii) to preserve one’s judgment or sense of oneself as moral (through being recognized as moral, regardless of whether one actually is moral)
(iii) to be seen as particularly moral relative to one’s affiliates in one’s tribe or group or relative to those of a contrastive, viewed-as-inferior-by-one’s-affiliates tribe or group.
All of these motivations are morally suspect and plausibly militate against the aims of moral discourse or practice (or at least ideal, and hence universalized or non-tribal, moral discourse or practice). (This claim is plausible on many different plausible accounts of what counts as moral discourse and what its aims are. It is plausible, at least to some degree, even if T&W are right that the sole or dominant aim of moral discourse is improving moral beliefs.)
Obviously, there is a common theme to these intuitively-morally-problematic desires: they are indefinite with respect to whether the beliefs that one is moral that one is seeking to cause in others are accurate or deserved. (We might just as well characterize the relevant mental items in terms of motivational or more-varied sorts of mindsets, not individual desires. For example, there is the motivational mindset of wanting be be judged moral but not caring if the judgment is undeserved.)
Each of [i]-[iii] is a better candidate for problematic motivation in participating in moral discourse (and for being morally suspect on its own terms). This is so even if we think of moral talk or discourse as being like a seminar room, with the cognitive aims always paramount. But their candidacy for being problematic (and the sort of problematic motivation that makes MG bad) is even better if we allow, as we should, that moral discourse has distinctive action motivating and coordinating (and perhaps other) aims.
The show-stopping problem with T&W’s paper is simply that RD is neither in itself morally problematic nor something that, when acted on via grandstanding (or otherwise), reliably frustrates the cognitive or belief-improvement – or other – aims of moral discourse. So treatment of the other aspects of T&W’s paper is moot. A better version of  (a better account of what MG is) would replace RD with some disjunction of intrinsic desires (maybe something like [i] or [ii] or [iii]), promoted or satisfied by the grandstander being judged to be moral by others, that are either morally problematic relative due to the content of morality (maybe MG does not show proper respect for others or for oneself) or problematic because successfully acting on them typically frustrates the aims of moral discourse (whether cognitive or broadly action-coordinating). A better version of  (a better account of why MG is bad) would explain why acting from one or more of these desires, in ways that are conventionally appropriate to the grandstanding task, is morally bad or destructive of the aims of moral discourse. Starting here, one might construct a better, more accurate account of what MG is and why it is bad.
(One motivation for such a project starts from the belief that we engage in MG (and other, related but similarly problematic activities in the course of moral practice and discourse) quite a lot more than we think – and often enough when we take ourselves to be acting out of justified moral outrage and the like (as Haidt argues in THE RIGHTEOUS MIND). And from the Haidt-critical standpoint, we should also want clear accounts of moral outrage and justified moral outrage. Such conceptual and normative work would help us think clearly and in essential terms in assessing Haidt’s empirical claims – and especially in assessing his (implicit) normative claims. It might also help us navigate current cultural-difference-driven political conflicts in the U.S. and elsewhere in a better way.)