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2015 Gifford Lecture Series: University of St. Andrews

Event Date: 
Thursday, October 1, 2015 - 13:30 to Friday, October 9, 2015 - 13:30
Parliament Hall


Exemplarist virtue theory is a comprehensive ethical theory in which all central terms in moral discourse (“virtue,” “good life,” “wrong act,” etc) are defined by direct reference to exemplars of goodness, picked out through the emotion of admiration. The theory maps the moral domain for theoretical purposes, but it also has the practical aim of helping to make people moral by structuring the theory around a motivating emotion– admiration. The structure is filled in by narratives and empirical studies that give content to moral terms by revealing the traits, aims, acts, and design of life of exemplars– persons like that. The theory’s semantics includes the principle of the Division of Moral Linguistic Labor, which explains the distinct social functions of value terms and deontic terms, and reveals the linguistic conditions for reaching moral agreement.

LECTURE 1: Why exemplarism?

This lecture gives the motives for inventing a moral theory based on direct reference to exemplars of moral goodness. I explain what direct reference is and why I think that using it can serve a number of different theoretical and practical purposes simultaneously. I then give an overview of the whole project.

LECTURE 2: Admiration

In this lecture I examine the emotion of admiration, the emotion from which the theory derives. I give my account of the nature of an emotion, the kinds of admiration, and the components of admiration, some of which have been empirically confirmed. I discuss the trustworthiness of admiration, and cynicism about the admirable arising from a psychological path that moves from painful admiration to envy and resentment of admirable persons, and sometimes the denial of the admirable as a moral category.

LECTURE 3: Virtue

This lecture shows how to define the value terms, including “virtue” and names for individual virtues, “good motive,” and “good life” by reference to exemplars. I will discuss three kinds of exemplars: the hero, the saint, and the sage, and will mention narratives and empirical studies relevant to each kind. I will show how reflective admiration can be used to identify the components of a virtue and to distinguish one virtue from another.

LECTURE 4: Emulation

In this lecture I look at the use of exemplarism for the practical purpose of acquiring virtue through emulation of exemplars. I discuss the psychological process of imitating an exemplar’s motives and acts, and the different process of learning moral reasons from exemplars. I respond to the worry that emulation is incompatible with autonomy and look at the deviant process of admiring the self in the exemplar.

LECTURE 5: The division of moral linguistic labor

This lecture defends a modification of Putnam’s principle of the Division of Linguistic Labor in moral discourse. I propose a way to define the deontic terms of “right,” “wrong,” and “duty” in exemplarism, and show how the semantics of moral terms I am using can be used to defend a moderate form of moral realism, and shows us some conditions for reaching cross-cultural moral agreement. I will conclude with some thoughts on the way that exemplarism converges at the top with deontic theories and neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics.