How to define perfection
I'm going to go against the prevailing winds here. I will present incontrovertible rational proof perfection can be both defined and achieved. The error almost all of the answers here have made is to assume the term perfection can only refer to a steady state in human beings.
Consider the following . . .
Why is it that whenever the topic of perfection is raised almost everyone immediately assume that can only mean (and starts railing against) moral perfection, or perfection of character? Or, more to the point, why do they pass judgment against simply striving for perfection and confuse all efforts with being a perfectionist, which is debilitating?
And why do people who are highly intelligent then pretend to be suddenly too stupid to realize perfection has already been defined and has been for centuries? Or that perfection-like most words-has multiple definitions in multiple contexts?
Why are so many people on Quora so dead set on rendering meaningless words whose meanings are found in every dictionary?
Not to call any person here mentally lacking, but there are a couple of idiotic ideas being expressed on this page. One of them is Perfection is impossible to define. Oh, really? Then how is it everybody knows what we're talking about? How can you identify the thing you're saying is impossible to define?
And what about those dictionary definitions? Who gets to prohibit their use and meanings for the rest of us?
The problem may be people don't know what it means to define something. Most seem to think it means: to be able to tell everything there is to possibly know about a thing.
However, to define is to limit; to fix or mark the limits of; to demarcate; and to make distinct. It comes from the Latin definire, and from finis, which mean limit, boundary or end. This is the opposite of what those who say perfection, or perfect, cannot be defined are calling definition.
In other words, to define is to narrow meaning-not to infinitely broaden it. But people on Quora are forever demanding definitions with infinite criteria, making it impossible to define any abstract term whose meaning they don't want to have to deal with.
So, let us now take a look at some of the dictionary definitions-as well as ancient meanings-for perfect/perfection, then see if we can name some instances of anything that fits those definitions.
Dictionary Definitions for Perfect
: being entirely without fault or defect : flawless
: satisfying all requirements : accurate
: corresponding to an ideal standard or abstract concept
: faithfully reproducing the original
: legally valid
: pure, total
: lacking in no essential detail
: absolute, unequivocal
(source: Merriam-Webster .com)
Ancient Meanings for Perfect
These are relevant because the type of perfection people have in mind the most is the type spoken of in scripture, which is perfection of character, or towards or in the sight of the God of scripture, as translated from Hebrew and Greek.
In both languages, the words translated perfect and perfection have the same meanings: complete/completion; whole; entire; sound; without blemish; full; made ready; undefiled; integrity; truth; of full age; pious; growth; exactness; complete thoroughly; repair; fit; make perfect; restore; accomplish; consummate; finish; fulfill; make replete; furnish; satisfy; fill up; make full.
Meaning Is Tied to Purpose
When we say words have meaning, we're saying they're intended to convey to other people the particular idea that we mean. The verb mean denotes that one intends to either do something or convey something-an action or a message.
Convey a message successfully and we have communicated. Stated another way, communication is the sharing of meaning.
But all too often on Quora, when these How do you define X? questions are asked, the majority of people responding go out of their way to not communicate. Rather, they take the opportunity to either show their cleverness or hide their ignorance-or both at once.
Thus, their answer takes one of three tacks:
- Privatize the meaning. - This is where they pretend (as I mentioned earlier) that we don't already have definitions everybody knows and thus proceed to give their own custom definitions. Either they'll simply employ The Great and Powerful IS , by calling it some other thing (of a different type); or they'll give their artistic impression of what it means to them; or they'll go way over most of our heads with a scholarly answer no one can refute because we don't really know what it's saying, for all the formulas, charts and sophisticated verbiage. In short, they give a philosophical answer (which, I suppose, such a question is probably asking for in the first place).
- Obliterate all meaning. - This one ALWAYS shows up. It doesn't matter what X is, someone will say X cannot be defined. or X does not exist. Frankly, this one makes me see red. Privatizing meaning I get and don't mind so much, in most cases. Because in most cases they're not being imposed. But these presume to make a ruling, as from a position of omniscience-as if, because they cannot define the thing, no one can, or it doesn't exist. Never mind that it shows up in every dictionary, with definitions listed. Somehow they have the power to decree them all to be unacceptable. By the way, this also includes the ever-present X is an illusion.
- One meaning fits all-court is in session. - This is when people speak of perfection as if it can only mean the one meaning they have in mind-among multiple valid meanings-for everybody. And the meaning they typically have in mind is absolute perfection in all aspects. Not just being morally perfect and impervious to doing something immoral, but capable of doing everything they do without making mistakes, to be factually correct in everything they think and say, to be physically perfect, and to be able to discern all things. Basically, unless you are divine, we're talking about an impossibility. Well, any fool knows none of us are that-or any one of those, for that matter. Arguing against that kind of "perfection," then, is pointless. Because no one is contending any of those.
So, how about that proof? If perfection has multiple meanings, then how can you define it?
Good question. Answer: by specifying meaning and context.
To Define: Refine and Confine