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  • Writer's pictureAmir Freimann

Existential Exemplars

In a paper called "Learning from Exemplars" by Pieter Vos (2018) I found a beautifully clarifying sentence about the effect of spiritual exemplars on us. I'd like to share it with you.

First, context. Vos makes a distinction between "role exemplars," who "embody the virtues" of their pre-defined roles, and "existential exemplars," who "acquire meaning on a deeper, existential level... with regard to what it means to be a human being and to be a human being with and for others."

Then, Vos suggest that, while for the "role exemplar" we have clear "standards of excellence," this is not the case for the "existential exemplar." In the case of "existential exemplarity," he writes, "exemplariness and that which is exemplified... resonate on a deeper level of our subjectivity."

And then comes the sentence which I find so clarifying, in terms of the effect of such exemplars on us:

"Existential exemplars become meaningful as they make us aware of the singularity of our own lives in which we ourselves should live what is exemplified by exemplary people."

This sentence nicely brings together the fact that exemplars inspire, elevate, encourage us to be in some way like them, and the fact that we can only do that in "the singularity of our own lives," which is different from theirs or anybody else's.

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