On the limitations of moral exemplarism: Socio-cultural values and gender

Alkis Kotsonis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

In this paper, I highlight and discuss two significant limitations of Zagzebski’s (in Exemplarist moral theory, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2017) exemplarist moral theory. Although I focus on Zagzebski’s theory, I argue that these limitations are not unique to her approach but also feature in previous versions of moral exemplarism. The first limitation I identify is inspired by MacIntyre’s (in After virtue, Duckworth, London, 1981) understanding of the concept of virtue and stems from the realization that the emotion of admiration, through which agents identify exemplars, should not be examined in vacuo. Scholars working on moral exemplarism have failed to note that admiration is substantially influenced by prevailing socio-cultural norms and values. I show that ‘the admirable’ varies across cultures and time; and the employment of one’s own emotion of admiration in order to derive the meaning of terms such as virtue and duty would only result in a culture-specific understanding of morality. The second limitation, inspired by Butler’s (in Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity, Routledge, London, 1990) social constructivist understanding of gender, rests on the realization that several features and characteristics of the agent influence their perception of moral excellence. I focus on the issue of gender and highlight that exemplarist theories justify (and perpetuate) a counter-intuitive gender-specific understanding of morality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalEthical Theory and Moral Practice
Early online date13 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • exemplarist moral theory
  • Zagzebski
  • MacIntyre
  • Butler


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