Digest of terms


tendency to look for everything to be correct in every detail. This may be more appropriate and achievable in some areas of life than in others. A sense of symmetrical completeness is relatively easy to demonstrate in the sphere of mathematics, and much more difficult in human life generally.

That said pursuit of perfection may be the goal of an athlete, a woodworker, a musician, a poet; so too of an architect, a web designer or a molecular biologist. Applied to human life the connotation of moral perfection comes explicitly into play. In philosophy perfectionism is a type of theory that envisages a certain kind of moral perfection as the proper fulfilment of human nature. Aristotelian ethics falls into this category, as does the related natural law theory found in Aquinas.

In Buddhist tradition, there is a designated pathway based on ten specified perfections to be successively realised in moving towards achieving full enlightenment. Perfectionism, rather than pursuit of selfless perfection, risks promoting an opposite state of self agglomerating achievement.

In Christian tradition too seeking to become perfect, complete and whole is a desirable end. Somewhat extreme examples of this are found in the lives of those who in the interests of realising perfect simplicity chose to live for many years on small platforms atop high columns. They were remarkable in this with the effect, whether or not intended, of drawing attention to themselves, but thereby running the risk of pride and self-righteousness. A more ordinary endeavour for individuals to become more fully themselves in community with others presents its own challenges. In early Christianity there were, it seems, some who thought it possible to remain perfect after being washed clean of sin in baptism, but this view came to be regarded as heretical, especially with the rise of the doctrine of original sin.

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