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Much of the public criticism of many public figures, such as that of Michael Phelps, Lindsay Lohan, and Bill Clinton, accuses those persons of failing as role models. The criticism often ascribes to public figures role‐model status in a general sense that encompasses their behaviour in aspects of life beyond the fields for which they are known. I argue that, because of privacy considerations, we are unjustified in ascribing broadly to public figures role‐model status in the general sense. Unless public figures hold themselves out to be role models regarding other aspects of life, we are justified in demanding only that they be good role models with respect to their behaviour in their particular fields. To make my arguments, I demonstrate that: 1) we are justified in ascribing role‐model status to individuals far less often than most believe; 2) legitimate role‐model obligations typically do not extend as far into role models' lives as most believe; and, 3) those who try to convince public figures to be better role models should redirect their efforts toward educating young people about who are proper role models and about what aspects of role‐models' lives young people should imitate.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, John Carroll University, 20700 North Park Blvd., University Heights, OH 44118, USA.

Publication date: May 1, 2012

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