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Is Some Vision of Perfection Good or Bad

for the Individual? For Society?

Let us admit that, in the world we know, there are many things that would be better otherwise, and that the ideals to which we do and must adhere are not realized in the realm of matter. Let us preserve our respect for truth, for beauty, for the ideal of perfection which life does not permit us to attain, though none of these things meet with the approval of the unconscious universe. If Power is bad, as it seems to be, let us reject it from our hearts. In this lies Man’s true freedom: in determination to worship only the God created by our own love of the good, to respect only the heaven which inspires the insight of our best moments.

Bertrand Russell

The world of time is irretrievably imperfect, whereas delight is only in perfection.

Malcolm Muggeridge

There are certain words which possess in themselves, when properly used, a virtue which illumines and lifts up towards the good. These are the words that refer to an absolute perfection which we cannot conceive. Since the proper use of these words involves not making them fit any conception, it is in the words themselves, as words, that the power to enlighten and draw upward resides. What they express is beyond our conception. God and truth are such words. Also justice, love and good.

Simone Weil

If you love those who love you, what title have you to a reward? Will not the publicans do as much? If you greet none but your brethren, what are you doing more than others? Will not the very heathen do as much? But you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Jesus of Nazareth (Matt 5:46-48)

In consequence of mental isolation and excessive study at the Polytechnic school, Alphonse Gratry, an academically gifted young Frenchman fell into a state of agonizing nervous exhaustion. However, ‘One day I had a moment of consolation, because I met with something which seemed to me ideally perfect. It was a poor drummer beating the tattoo [drum rhythm] in the streets of Paris. I walked behind him in returning to the school on the evening of a holiday. His drum gave out the tattoo in such a way that, of that moment at least, however peevish I were, I could find no pretext for fault-finding. It was impossible to conceive more nerve or spirit, better time or measure, more clearness or richness, than were in this drumming. Ideal desire could go no farther in that direction. I was enchanted and consoled; the perfection of this wretched act did me good. Good is at least possible, I said, since the ideal can thus sometimes get embodied.’

William James (from The Varieties of Religious Experience)

The media extols every gain in speed as a success, and the public accepts it as such. But experience shows that the more time we save, the less we have. The faster we go, the more harassed we are. I know that I will be told that we need to have all these means at our disposal and to go as fast as we can because modern life is harried. But modern life is harried because we have the telephone, the fax, the jet plane, etc. Without these devices it would be no more harried than it was a century ago when we could all walk at the same pace. “You are denying progress then?” Not at all; what I am denying is that this is progress.

Jacques Ellul (from The Technological Bluff, 1990)

What we call progress is the exchange of one nuisance for another.

Havelock Ellis

We need not debate about the mere words evolution or progress; personally I prefer to call it reform. For reform implies form. It implies that we are trying to shape the world in a particular image; to make it something that we see already in our minds. Evolution is a metaphor from mere automatic unrolling. Progress is a metaphor from merely walking along a road—very likely the wrong road. But reform is a metaphor for reasonable and determined men: it means that we see a certain thing out of shape and we mean to put it into shape. And we know what shape.

G. K. Chesterton

The reasonable man adapts to the world, the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. All progress therefore depends on the unreasonable man.

George Bernard Shaw

The truest and most horrible claim made for modern transport is that it “annihilates space.” It does. A modern boy travels a hundred miles with less sense of liberation and pilgrimage and adventure than his grandfather got from travelling ten. Of course if a man hates space and wants it to be annihilated, that is another matter. Why not creep into his coffin at once? There is little enough space there.

C. S. Lewis

Science seems to be the only branch of study in which people have to be waved back from perfection as from a pestilence.

G. K. Chesterton




Thoughts about Progress, Idealism & Perfection

At twenty the young idealist thinks he can save the world. At thirty he begins to wish he could save part of his salary.

Idealism increases in direct proportion to one’s distance from the problem.

John Galsworthy

Even for Karl Marx, Charles Darwin was the leading prophet of the age and deadly competition was viewed as nature’s instrument for progress.

The full title of Darwin’s famous book is: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life

For the man of action there is nothing but idealism.

G. K. Chesterton

Progress by its very name indicates a direction; and the moment we are in the least doubtful about the direction, we become in the same degree doubtful about the progress.

G. K. Chesterton

Fundamental progress has to do with the reinterpretation of basic ideas.

A. N. Whitehead

[George Bernard] Shaw looked forward to a time when, in the course of evolution, ecstasy of intellect would replace sexual passion.

Michael Holroyd

If we are idealists about the other world, we can be realists about this world.

G. K. Chesterton

High standards are of immense value to a society, even if few men live up to them. There is an inevitable gap between the ideals of a society and its average standard of conduct. If those ideals are lowered to adjust them to this average standard, the inevitable gap soon reappears, and the average man falls as far short of the debased as of the lofty standards.

Arnold Lunn

Idealism is the despot of thought, just as politics is the despot of will.

Mikhail Bakunin

By concentrating on what is good in people, by appealing to their idealism and their sense of justice, and by asking them to put their faith in the future, socialists put themselves at a severe disadvantage.

Ian McEwan

Of all follies there is none greater than wanting to put the world to rights.

Molière

The troubles of our proud and angry dust
Are from eternity, and shall not fail.

A. E. Housman

Perfection in making is an art, perfection in acting is a virtue.

Aristotle

The perfection of man consists not in being perfect but in trying to be; and that trying implies, of course, continual failures.

Michael Mason

Progress is not an accident but a necessity. What we call evil and immorality must disappear. It is certain that man must become perfect.

Herbert Spencer

Nothing remains of the somewhat naive optimism of the nineteenth century when science and progress were expected to abolish all evils, both individual and collective.

Ignace Lepp

The major advances in civilization are processes which all but wreck the societies in which they occur.

A. N. Whitehead

Change is inevitable, progress is problematic.

Bertrand Russell

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Martin Luther King

There is a continual enlargement of the field of experience, with the new not simply replacing the old, but being compared and combined with it. The history of mankind, and especially of civilised mankind, shows a continuous process of integration, which, even though it seems to work irregularly, never ceases.

Christopher Dawson

The ultimate perfection attainable to us, in the minds of the Greek philosophers, was this: that the order of the whole of existing things should be inscribed in our souls.

Josef Pieper

The youth of twenty who does not think the world can be improved is a cad; the man of forty who still thinks it can is a fool.

Hesketh Pearson

Progress is not an illusion, it happens, but it is slow and invariably disappointing.

George Orwell

They that say the world grows worse and worse are very much mistaken, for Adam who had but one commandment to keep broke that, and Cain slew his brother Abel when there was but two of them to share the whole world.

Samuel Butler

There is no evidence that the mental and moral capacities of the human race have been increased since man became man.

C. S. Lewis

We have stopped believing in progress. What progress that is!

Jorge Luis Borges

When the goal of progress is no longer clear, the word is simply an excuse for procrastination.

G. K. Chesterton

Where there is no vision, the people perish.

Proverbs

Where there is vision the people perish. I admit they also perish where there is no vision. Either way, in fact, their situation appears to be damnably awkward.

Hugh Kingsmill

While there is no materialism so crude or so material as American materialism, there is also no idealism so crude or so ideal as American idealism.

G. K. Chesterton

America has never been an empire. We may be the only great power in history that had the chance, and refused—preferring greatness to power and justice to glory.

George W. Bush

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