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With LearnLiberally.org in an early stage of development, this list indicates our aspiration imperfectly. We start limited, intending as work progresses to extend what we do in scope and depth. But initiators cannot and should not try to do everything possible and desirable at once. Hence, we start by working within our range of competence, which for a time will privilege dead white males of the Western canon. Please take that as a sign of our limitations and as an invitation to extend it into a more comprehensive, cosmopolitan, and inclusive list.
An exemplar—a person who has completed life—receives attention because other persons now engaged in their own self-formation extract from that life insight, understanding, and inspiration in shaping their own. An exemplar stands before us, not as an object lesson instructing us about some unattainable principle or ideal, but as a complex person of achieved significance, worthy of study, reflection, inward contemplation. Exemplars have importance, less for our public selves and their outward lives, but for the inner person that each of us lives with, the person with whom we commune, whose thoughts, experience, and fates we examine with curiosity, respect, and honesty.
We, as living persons, identify others as our exemplars and project an aura of exemplarity onto them. Thus, exemplars indicates an open, inclusive set arising from the concrete judgments that we make, investing an exemplar's life and work with special significance for our shaping our own lives.
Through our work here, we identify predecessors we judge to be our exemplars and present their lives and work for study, relative to our five imperatives. Although we all often have living exemplars, here we restrict our attention to persons who have completed their lives. That leaves us much to do, and it lessens the distortions that celebrity and notoriety can induce in the assessment of exemplarity.
Exemplarity has a lot to do with our giving ourselves positive and negative feedback in forming and carrying out aspirations. Hence we resist the temptation to see exemplars as only the good guys, the positive models. We can and should project exemplars that help us define formative possibilities that we can and should resist as well as those we can and should pursue. Judgments of exemplarity need to be nuanced and many-sided. Novelas ejemplares by Miguel de Cervantes helps greatly in grasping the subtleties of the concept.
- The Exemplary Novels of Cervantes (William K. Kelly, trans., London: George Bell & Sons, 1881), Project Gutenberg