God, concepts of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-K030-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved October 26, 2021, from

5. Intuitions about perfection

Four intuitions about what it is to be perfect are found in the history of philosophical theology. One is that to be perfect is perfectly to be, and so draws on an account of what it is to be. We find this account and its consequences in Parmenides (§6) and in Plato’s account of his Forms. Augustine puts it this way:

Something which changes does not retain its own being. A thing which can change, even if it does not change, cannot be what it had been. So only what does not only not change but also cannot at all change falls most truly…under the category of being.

(On the Trinity V, 2–3)

A God perfect in this way must be wholly discrete from the universe: the universe changes, God does not.

The Latin root of ‘perfect’, perficio, has the sense of ‘complete’. Thus, a second perfection-intuition has been that what is perfect lacks nothing, is fully self-sufficient, and so is independent of all else. If persons by nature change, are finite or incomplete in various ways, or require others for their full flourishing, a God whose perfection reflects these first two intuitions may be personlike, but is not in the ordinary sense a person. A third intuition is that what is perfect, being complete, is all-inclusive. Classical theism takes God to be all-inclusive in perfection. Thus, Aquinas argues that if a being lacks some perfection, it is not a God (Summa theologiae Ia, q.11, a.3). The Stoics and Parmenides took being perfect as being all-inclusive and reasoned that as all-inclusive, a perfect being must include the universe. One way to develop this thought holds that God is the universe, and so sees God as impersonal. A second way to develop this view sees God as including, but also as being ‘more than’, the universe, just as persons include but are more than their bodies. The last intuition takes persons as the standard of perfection, and so insists that any perfect being must know, will and (according to some philosophers) feel.

Below is a survey of some of the main concepts of God that these intuitions have yielded.

Citing this article:
Leftow, Brian. Intuitions about perfection. God, concepts of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-K030-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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