Is It Possible to Found a Moral Theory on the Emotion of Admiration?

Keywords: exemplarist moral theory, exemplar, moral emotions, admiration, Zagzebski


The article focuses on the exemplarism of Linda Zagzebski (2017). Zagzebski proposes to found an ethical theory on the emotion of admiration. In the first explanatory part, I present the central assumptions of exemplarism. I explain what constitutes a moral exemplar; the role admi­ra­tion plays in Zagzebski’s theory; and the unique nature of her approach. In the second, critical part, I highlight the strong and weak sides of exemplarist ethical theory. I refer to the rich empi­rical data that confirms the importance of modeling in moral education as well as the role of positive emotions in moral development. I underline the practical dimension of Zagzebski’s approach. The weakness of exemplarism lies in its overly strong emphasis on admiration as the foundation of moral theory. This is the case for the following two reasons. Firstly, the kind of admiration that Zagzebski has in mind is difficult to define and distinguish from other similar emotions that do not deserve to be regarded as foundational for an ethical theory. Secondly, it seems that it is not admiration that comes first, followed by the moral values that we discover through this emotion, but rather that admiration is secondary, constituting a response to the values that we already recognize as admirable.

Author Biography

Natasza Szutta, University of Gdansk, Poland

Dr. habil. Natasza Szutta — University of Gdańsk, Faculty of Social Sciences, Institute of Philosophy, Department of Ethics and Social Philosophy


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