Exemplarist Virtue Ethics
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In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle introduces the concept of virtue, states of character that allow an agent to perform her function well, and gives a practical account of how someone can become virtuous. I will argue that Aristotle manages to be vague with respect to two epistemic questions: First, how can we identify virtuous people? Second, how can we know which states of character are virtuous? Recently, Linda Zagzebski has introduced a moral theory called exemplarism, which answers that we may identify virtuous people via the emotion of admiration, and that by studying virtuous people, we may come to know which states of character are virtuous. But, Zagzebski’s exemplarism is unmediated; there is no difference between a moral concept and what an exemplar would do or feel in certain circumstances. Problematically, on this account it appears that the more moral experience we have, the murkier our moral concepts become. In what follows, I propose what I call a mediated exemplarism, an account that answers our questions about virtue in the same way as Zagzebski, but on which an exemplar’s actions or feelings do not constitute moral concepts. Rather, on my account, exemplars serve the pedagogical purpose of indicating virtues to an agent, who may then construct a theory of virtue from which moral concepts may be inferred that are divorced from the actions and feelings of a particular exemplar.
Goin, Adam S (2016). Exemplarist Virtue Ethics. Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. Available electronically from