Ethical Perfectionism

by thewedewer

“Perfectionism is very dangerous because, of course, if your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything. Doing anything becomes tragic because it means sacrificing how gorgeous and perfect it is in your head for what it really is.” – David Foster Wallace

At first glance, David Foster Wallace’s statement about perfectionism appears to be unrelated to ethical perfectionism but the implicit assertion contained within this quote contains great meaning for the ethical perfectionists of the past and the present. Implicit to DFW’s claim is the idea that:
1. achieving “perfect” is impossible. ultimately, perfect ideas are never perfect. “what it really is” is less than that.
2. therefore, the notion of ethical perfection, whether oriented towards some objective form of the good or some ideal form of human nature, is painfully flawed. there is no ethical perfection that can beĀ instantiated through the habituation of education or firm laws because ethical perfection isn’t a concept that can be attained or discovered. attempts to force ethical perfection upon people serve as evidence for the validity of this claim. the utopian ambitions of communist states, the puritanical tyranny of calvinist communities and the evil consequences of state-supported papal authority all attest to the dangers of ethical perfectionism.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. “Ethical perfectionism” veers too far into the realm of the “philosophy” aspect of “political philosophy” for me to have any substantial thoughts about the concept. Nevertheless, I find myself simultaneously repulsed and attracted when I think about the concept. The notion that states can promote just behavior and The Good through education/myth-making/censorship + the proper construction of a state (Plato) or through laws + political community (Aristotle) is very attractive. It’s also quite toxic because it’s rooted in an inherent paternalism, the paternalism of thinking that there can be ethical perfection.

I’m very confused about this topic and look forward to producing some coherent thoughts about this in further blog posts and, later on, my research paper.

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