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Philosophy and Theology

Volume 1, Issue 1, Fall 1986

Edith Wyschogrod
Pages 9-31

Exemplary Individuals
Towards a Phenomenological Ethics

To avoid the difficulties that follow from essentialism in ethics, a new account of generality is required. The first half of this paper develops such an account by considering the work of Levinas and of Merleau-Ponty who turn to the incarnate subject as expressing a mode of generality of which universals and essences are derivative types. I call this kind of generality “carnal generality” and the context-specific complexes that exhibit it “carnal generals.” In the second part I turn to paradigmatic lives both within and outside of religious tradition to show how such lives function as carnal generals. I examine some competing claims, Nelson Goodman’s account of samples and Alasdair MacIntyre’s view of the virtues as they bear on resolving ethical disputes, and suggest reasons for preferring a phenomenological view of paradigmatic lives.

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