The theory that things in the world exist as imperfect copies or approximations of abstract or eternally existing patterns or archetypes; especially the theory that created things are patterned after ideas eternally existing in the mind of God. Compare "exemplar". Chiefly historical.
2The doctrine that the atonement of Christ is of value to humanity purely as a moral example, especially as a lesson in the positive value of sacrifice and suffering for the benefit of others.
Late 19th century. From exemplar + -ism.