Helen De Cruz and the Ethics of Self-Promotion Through Bragging

Posted on November 5, 2014 by

In a very interesting post over at the Philosopher’s Cocoon Helen De Cruz considers a forthcoming paper by Mark Alfano and Brian Robinson where they define bragging as a special form of assertion where the bragger “aims to impress her audience with something about herself by asserting something about herself”. She then takes issue with this definition. She writes,

“In this broad sense, lots of social media updates count as bragging. For instance, even posting scenic pictures from the beautiful location where the conference you are speaking at could be a form of bragging (look what a cool place I’ve been invited to!). And so are status updates of books and articles one has recently published. Self-promotion through bragging, it seems morally problematic.”

She further writes “So in this view, we should show restraint – not post FB status updates of our forthcoming papers and books anymore, etc. I don’t think this is a good idea, simply because I do find the bragging (in the sense that A&R define it) of others quite valuable. I’ve found so many cool things by seeing papers etc of my FB friends. I’ve become of work outside of the stuff I normally work on. Reading such updates helps me to keep touch with the profession as well.”

But I don’t see why this follows. In the comment section I stated why:

I like Alfano`s and Robinson`s characterization of bragging and I don`t think that many social media posts necessarily constitute bragging on their account, though it`s possible that many might. They say, as you quote bragging is constituted by “(an) aim(s) to impress her audience with something about herself by asserting something about herself”. But many times when I post (and others as well) the aim isn`t to impress. The aim is to share a with others an experience that was important, captivating, or special in some way. So, when I share a photo of the beautiful Canadian Rockies it isn`t because I want to show off to everyone or impress everyone, it is to show people how beautiful this area is, to share my experience. The same with research. If I was sharing my latest article *to impress* then it seems wrong. But, if Im doing it because I think I can add to a debate that others might care about then it seems perfectly okay. This is why I like their account. It leaves the cases I mention above morally permissible while also calling into question the cases where my motivation for posting is to *impress*.

Now, Helen’s post brought up some other very interesting points which I think bear on an asymmetry debate going in the literature on blame and praise so I suggest you read Helen’s post in it’s entirety. That said, what do you think? Is bragging a bad thing? Must we see the posts that Helen describes as bragging or does the definition offered by Alfano and Robinson leave room for us seeing such posts as morally permissible?