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Marcus Arvan

Hi Helen: I share your general concern, and posted on something similar a while back (http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2013/08/philosophers-and-social-media.html ).

I think public humility is a virtue, *particularly* in the case of social media, given all of the research about how status updates and the like make people feel worse about themselves. I think it's always good to keep in mind that your good news may make someone feel worse about themselves--and that this is why public norms against bragging have been widespread for generations.

At the same time, I think these norms should only extend to *self*-promotion (e.g. job interviews, etc.), not to promotion of one's work. I think it is entirely legitimate to try to draw attention to one's work, especially given how hard it is to get one's work read and engaged with. I don't know about you, but if I've spent months or years working on an article or book, I want it to be read and engaged with--and I think one has every legitimate right and interest to try to draw attention to it! Indeed, for many of us, our careers depend on it. If our work falls lifeless from the presses (to use Hume's turn of phrase), this can mean the difference between a job and no job, tenure or no tenure, etc.

Helen De Cruz

Hi Marcus: I think that public humility is a virtue too, and it is a good thing to keep in mind one's audience when posting updates (e.g., yay, article accepted is inevitably going to make some people feel worse whose articles were recently rejected). However, I'd like to challenge the public norms against bragging for several reasons:
1. There is such a strong norm against bragging that people might feel worried about whether something might count as bragging even if it does not
2. If we have to rely on others entirely to sing our praises, and we can't self-promote, not even by making others aware of what we've published etc through social media, inevitably, some people are going to get a lot more social promotion than others. These will be mainly golden boys and girls - people with an easy, outgoing personality who went to excellent grad programs and are regarded as up and coming. But it will be at the expense of more introverted people, or people who didn't go to great programs.

Neil Levy

Hi Helen,

I note that Speer is based in the UK. I haven't read the paper, but is the data also UK sourced? It seems anecdotally that self-praise of a kind that would be embarrassing in the UK and Australia is expected in the US and other countries. This might be changing, but I have long noticed this in sporting contexts, where US athletes will tell reporters beforehand that they are the greatest will crush their opponent, whereas the UK athlete will say that they think they're in with a shot. There is also the common Australian athlete's 'yeah no' response to praise:
Reporter: You had a great game out there today.
Athlete: Yeah no, it wasn't too bad.

Helen De Cruz

Hi Neil it's not specified where each fragment comes from. The text corpora that are being analyzed in the paper come from the UK and from the US.
In sports there may be an exception to the social convention against bragging. Bragging by athletes and other competitive sportspeople might be a form of psychological warfare. For instance, Muhammad Ali had his signature "talking trash" (belittling and taunting his opponents), see here for examples: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsAC4lhbE0g

Elisa Freschi

I agree with Neil that much depends on the country one is active in. Typically, I perceive all US-based scholars speaking about themselves as people who boast too much, whereas what they do is perfectly fine in their context. I took my PhD in Italy, where you are supposed *not* to write "Dr." before your name (people should recognise your value, it is not up to you to tell them), which means that now that I live in Austria and everyone puts every title she has in front of her name I am misunderstood for the last secretary or cleaning person at my institute:-)
As for Beowulf, I think that a different ethical standard applies to bragging about one's group and not oneself and that the latter is much more socially acceptable. One can speak proudly of one's faculty, colleagues, institute, department, in the same way in which one can speak proudly of one's children. Even speaking proudly of one's nation is not as socially condemned as speaking proudly of oneself, is it?

Mark Alfano

Thanks, Helen! (The link seems to be dead, incidentally. Here's a live one: http://www.brobinson.info/papers/Bragging.pdf)

Elisa: we argue in the paper that speaking proudly of one's nation can constitute bragging if the speaker takes the audience to associate the nation sufficiently with the speaker's identity.

Justin Caouette

Excellent post, Helen!

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, that said, I think you bring up a very interesting point re: how praise can cause harm. There is an interesting debate in the literature on responsibility. Some say that blame and praise are symmetrical evaluations while other think that these evaluations are asymmetrical with re: to their underlying conditions (see Dana Nelkin`s work on this). Your concerns seem to point to a symmetry, or at least why a symmetry might be plausible. Often times people appeal to the harm that blame can cause as a reason to think the conditions for blaming should be more stringent, but your point is well taken re: the possible harms of praise.

Anyway, thanks for the post, it was thought provoking!


this conversation seems to be dying down, but just to say:

I'm with Marcus on promoting one's work. One thing to add is that sometimes one's employers look very positively on actions such as tweeting about one's work and getting it re-tweeted. This might be especially the case for certain post-docs. Also, I'd guess some (most?) deans will like prospective hires who already play the on-line presence/research impact game. Sometimes promotion of one's work is close to a professional necessity.

Bragging about conferences or general life/philosophy stuff might be different. I quite like hearing good news from my real friends. It gets old seeing some humble-bragging (usually on Facebook) from acquaintances. (If I'm honest, though, some such bragging should be fine: if I get upset at minor self-promotion, it is probably sour grapes on my part.)

I know lots of folks who are struggling on the market (even fancy school folks, although I'm non-fancy, and back where I come from struggling is the norm). Now, I've been very lucky and have a very cool job. So I refrain from almost any discussion of good news about my job, since it seems like something that, coming from others, would annoy me. As a result my friends don't hear as much about little good things that happen during my days, but I am hopefully slightly less annoying on-line.

On a related note: haven't read the Alfano&Robinson, but if they haven't done it already, they owe us an analysis of the humble brag.

Helen De Cruz

Hi Anon: I think a lot of being annoyed at other people's successes is indeed a result of sour grapes. For instance, now that I have a book under contract, I feel I can rejoice more in the books of others that come out. Before, I also liked to hear about other people's books, but inevitably, when I was looking for a home for my first monograph, such reports did give me an added sense of insecurity (e.g., comparing the seniority of the person who just has a book out with my own position). Still, the overall benefits of learning what others in one's network are up to outweigh, I believe, the harms this does (in terms of making us feel worse about ourselves).

Phil H

I think the point about social conventions is really important, because a lot of the activities talked about here may not be bragging if the existing social convention is to do them. It's not bragging to write your accomplishments on your CV, because that is the socially accepted place to do so. Similarly, in some groups it may be socially accepted that (for example) a Facebook page is a normal place to record events like publications, simply as an informational service to one's peers (no intention to impress). But if that's not the norm in another group, then putting up a paper might be a self-conscious attempt to draw attention: a brag. The difficulty comes when (for example) your Facebook contacts contain people of both persuasions. But in that case, it is the intention element which determines brag/no brag.

Elisa Freschi

Since I belong to the ones whose conventions are strongly aganst bragging (see my comment above), I am perhaps over-sensitive about it and explicitly dislike anything one says about oneself, unless it is content-related. Say: I dislike "I published a book with OUP---that's another milestone in my career", but I like "Is solipsism the only possible philosophical position? There are many arguments in favour of solipsism, in my last book, forthc. by OUP, I examine them all and would like to hear your feedback".
On a practical level, I think that group blogs are a great alternative to bragging. Marcus' ideas in this sense are inspiring (I am thinking of the monthly summary of what members have published and of the featured series, open also to early career scholars). In my own blogs, I try to regularly discuss other people articles (as I did here too, at least a couple of times) and sometimes host interviews with early career colleagues.

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