Access to the full content is only available to members of institutions that have purchased access. If you belong to such an institution, please log in or find out more about how to order.



DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L070-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2021
Retrieved July 16, 2024, from

Article Summary

In philosophy, unlike in everyday English, ‘perfectionism’ does not refer to a concern to get every detail right. It is the name of an ethical theory with deep roots in the Western philosophical tradition, one held by Plato, Aristotle, and many later philosophers including Aquinas, Leibniz, Marx, Nietzsche, Green, Rashdall, and Moore. It is centred on a conception of the human good that it tells us to promote, but it equates this good, not with a subjective state like pleasure or desire-fulfilment, but with objective goods that, historically, have included knowledge, moral virtue, aesthetic appreciation, and the achievement of difficult goals. Whereas theories that are perfectionist only in a broad sense just list these goods, perfectionism in a narrower sense grounds them in human nature: certain properties or capacities, it says, are fundamental to our shared human nature, and the human goods all develop this nature to a high degree. Some versions of the theory are formally egoistic, deriving all their directives from a foundational one to pursue our own perfection; they capture other-regarding duties by including the exercise of the moral virtues, including justice and benevolence, in each person’s good. Other versions give us just as basic a reason to promote others’ perfection as our own, and so capture other-regarding duties directly; they can still treat virtue as an intrinsic good. Perfectionism has sometimes been resisted because of a worry that, when applied to political questions, it is hostile to equality and liberty. While some versions of it have indeed been anti-egalitarian or illiberal, others have favoured material equality and the protection of individual freedom. Which line perfectionism takes depends in large part on which specific states it takes to be objectively good; if they include autonomy or self-direction, for example, that favours liberty.

Citing this article:
Hurka, Thomas. Perfectionism, 2021, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L070-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

Related Articles