Objects of virtue: ‘Moral Grandstanding’ and the capitalisation of ethics under neoliberal commodity fetishism

Steph Grohmann*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

This article critiques conspicuous displays of morality within public discourse, recently framed as ‘moral grandstanding’, from the perspective of an intersubjective Critical Realist theory of ethics. Drawing on Honneth’s recognition theory as the basis of a ‘qualified explanatory critique’, I argue that these practices are not mere aberrations within moral discourse, but a necessary consequence of the neoliberal imperative to turn all aspects of the self into market assets. Neoliberal commodity fetishism also and especially involves the commodification of moral character as a means of economic competition, as exemplified in recent discussions of ‘ethical capital’. This objectification categorically precludes intersubjectivity as the basis of ethical life, and produces a cognitive structure resembling narcissistic pathology, characterised by the pervasive objectification of self and other. Critical Realists should therefore reject moral grandstanding not only for its detrimental effects on public discourse, but because in subordinating morality to the market, it is fundamentally anti-ethical.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Critical Realism
Early online date6 Jul 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Jul 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • moral grandstanding
  • intersubjective ethics
  • commodity fetishism
  • neoliberalism
  • objectification


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