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Moral Exemplarism as a Powerful Indoctrinating Tool

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  1. See, for example, Nicomachean Ethics II, 1107a. For an overview of different varieties of ethics see Oakley (1996).

  2. For an overview of the history of utilitarianism, see Driver (2014).

  3. Here, I am using Ellington’s (1993) translation of Kant’s Grounding for the metaphysics of morals.

  4. The same, it should be noted, is true for previous versions of moral exemplarism.

  5. This should not be taken to imply that exemplarism does not also have a long tradition in non-Western philosophies. See Cottine (2016) and Kidd (2018, 2020).

  6. One could argue that, besides deontological and utilitarian approaches to education, exemplarist informal education could also be used to rehabilitate indoctrinated students. Although this is true, I believe that approaches relying on the principles of utilitarian and deontological moral theories would fare better since they would provide direct moral guidance to students – rather than rely on them to choose the ‘true’ exemplar over the one promoted by ‘evil forces’. Nonetheless, my argument does not hinge on this claim. No matter which approach is better at rehabilitating indoctrinated agents, it still remains that the theory of moral exemplarism does not safeguard adequately against the indoctrination and manipulation of agents’ moral reasoning by ‘evil forces’ promoting false role models and ideals.

  7. Here, it might be important to note again that there is no guarantee that such approaches (or any other approach for that matter) are going to help rehabilitate indoctrinated students – i.e. un-indoctrination is not always possible. This goes to show how big a problem it is that the exemplarist moral theory cannot adequately safeguard against being used for indoctrination purposes.

  8. For more on the problem of indoctrination in educational approaches to moral exemplarism (and potential solutions to it) see Sanderse (2013), Croce (2019) and Osman (2019). For a more general discussion of indoctrination in moral education see Merry (2005), Copp (2016) and Siegel (2018).


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Special thanks to Theodore Scaltsas and Renia Gasparatou.

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Kotsonis, A. Moral Exemplarism as a Powerful Indoctrinating Tool. J Value Inquiry 57, 593–605 (2023).

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