Journal of Value Inquiry:1-18 (forthcoming)
AbstractBy spelling out the affective dimension of admiration, this paper challenges the view of admiration as a trustworthy means of detecting morally desirable qualities in exemplars. Such a view of admiration, foundational for the current debate on exemplars in moral education, holds that admiration is a self-motivating emotion essentially oriented toward the good and the excellent. I demonstrate that this view ignores the affective aspects of admiration explored widely in the history of philosophy on which the debate on moral exemplars substantially draws. Focusing on Spinoza, Smith, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche, I bring to light their largely skeptical views of the moral value of admiration. These thinkers indicate that admiration can be influenced by, and is often conflated with, other emotions, and can arise in us through behavioral mimicry; moreover, admiration is often oriented toward the mediocre and corrupt, is contagious, self-referential, collective, and has limited motivational power. Their remarks on the affective dimension of admiration call into question admiration’s applicability and usefulness in moral exemplarity.
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