Emotions targeting moral exemplarity: making sense of the logical geography of admiration, emulation and elevation

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Colleges, School and Institutes


Despite renewed interest in moral role modelling and its emotional underpinnings, further conceptual work is needed on the logical geography of the emotions purportedly driving it, in particular admiration, emulation and elevation. In this paper, I explore admiration (as understood by Linda Zagzebski) and Aristotle’s emulation in Section 2 and then elevation (as recently characterised by Jonathan Haidt) in Section 3. Although learning from moral exemplarity can, to a large extent, be accounted for on the motivational grounds of admiration and emulation, I argue that we need a concept of elevation (as a kind of moral awe) to account for attraction to transpersonal moral ideals. I explain Aristotle’s inability to make sense of people’s emotional attachment to moral exemplarity, as distinct from the attachment to moral exemplars. In Section 4, I bring to bear insights from another ancient emotion theorist, Mengzi (Mencius), in order to get Aristotle back on track. Finally, Section 5 offers concluding remarks and a brief educational discussion.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-37
JournalTheory and Research in Education
Issue number1
Early online date1 Feb 2017
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017


  • exemplars/exemplarity, admiration, emulation, elevation, Aristotle, Zagzebski