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Learning from exemplars: emulation, character formation and the complexities of ordinary life

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In the field of character education role-modelling is advocated as an important pedagogical strategy. It is supposed that students learn from ‘significant others’ who exemplify important virtues and values. However, in these strategies it is not clear what and how students precisely can and should learn from exemplars and how the following of exemplars relates to the educational aim of ‘becoming a self.’ In this article, it is argued that modelling is only a relevant pedagogical strategy if moral exemplars are somehow related to life in its full extent, including its moral complexities and ambiguities. Understanding moral exemplarity demands not only the reappropriation of an Aristotelian conception of emulation but also an understanding of the typical modern relocation of moral exemplarity in the fullness of life, importantly originating from what Charles Taylor calls the Protestant ‘affirmation of ordinary life.’ In addition, a distinction is introduced between ‘role exemplarity’ and ‘existential exemplarity.’ Based on this distinction it is argued that emulation should not be limited to learning from role models, but should also include something that runs deeper, to the depth of our own subjectivity or self.
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Keywords: Exemplarity; character education; modelling; moral formation; ordinary life

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Protestant Theological University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Publication date: January 2, 2018

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