A Reevaluation of the Idea of Perfection
Harris, William Henry
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The problem of this dissertation is that of examining the idea of perfection as it has traditionally been used in metaphysics. The traditionally accepted definition of perfection was formulated by Aristotle. Perfection is the conformity of a thing with its end. The idea needs critical reevaluation for it has had widespread and crucial use, but use which has not always been wise. The constructive possibilities of the idea should be explored, for the idea of perfection holds promise as a point of relation between ontology and ethics. Five logically possible attitudes have been taken toward the idea that all of Reality conforms to its end: (l) Perfection may be attributed to Reality on the basis of logical implication. A distinction is made between Appearance and Reality, and the imperfections which appear are used to argue for a transcendentally perfect order which serves as their basis. (2) Perfection may be attributed to the present space-time order in a sense which denies an intentional, purposive character to our "ends." Each thing reaches its "end" because everything is contained in an order which is causally complete. (3) Perfection may be challenged by advocates of a revelational, super-rational theology. Such critics fear that all attempts to define Reality are fraught with anthropomorphism and sinful pride. (4) Perfection, and all other metaphysical ideas, may be considered merely subjective and scientifically meaningless. Our need to form ends is separated from the perception of facts. (5) Perfection of Reality may be asserted on the basis of the particular perfections which we experience. Appearance is not divorced from Reality, although it is recognized that Appearance is only a part of Reality. Natural perfections are not denied, nor ignored, but are used as the basis of metaphysics. The conclusions of this study may be drawn together as follows: (1) The idea of perfection is a useful instrument for bringing together ethics and ontology. (2) The idea of perfection is of particular importance to religious metaphysics, since religion is an expressed conviction that our fundamental ends correspond to Reality. (3) Such equally important ideas as personality, infinity and creativity are adversely affected if perfection is affirmed of absolutely all of God's being. (4) Each feeling of obligation is implicitly characterized by a tension to perfect an Ideal of Perfect Personality. This tension is misunderstood and dissipated if the Ideal is held to be perfectly actualized, or if the tension is seen simply to arise from conditioning. (5) The tension toward perfection experienced in moral obligation, in cognition, and in expanding freedom, gives us our principal insight into the existence and nature of God. [TRUNCATED]
Thesis (Ph.D)--Boston University
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