PERFECTIBILITY

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PERFECTIBILITY; the capacity of being made perfect. It is a word used in philosophy, religious and moral, with reference to individuals and to society, to the present and the future state. Moral duties include not only the duties which we owe to others, but also tae great duty which we owe to ourselves, to strive uninterruptedly for the improvement of our mental and moral faculties. This sup poses that our own improvement is in our own power, which has been doubted by certain philosophers, materialists and others, who make our whole moral condition dependent upon causes beyond our control, thus denying, in fact, a moral condition. The question whether we can ever attain, on earth, to a state of perfection, resolves itself into thiswhether we can ever, in this world, acquire a perfect knowledge of our duties, and a perfect will to perform thern. The consideration of the hinderances to such a will and knowledge belongs to the great question of the origin of evil. But, however imperfect may be all the attainments that we can make in this world, on which point every one's own conscience will satisfy him better than the most elaborate reasoning, no one should be deprived by such considerations from striving for all the improvement within his power. To stop, or to go backwards, is to be wretched. Secondly, as to the perfectibility of society. It was loudly maintained by som" French writers, at the beginning of the revolution of the last century, that society was making a progress which must ultimately end in a perfect state. Whether they meant that the individuals composing society would become perfect, or rfeerred to some unintelligible perfection in the social system, distinct from the individuals composing it, history and the experience of every reflecting man sufficiently prove the notion to be visionary. For some centuries, the European races seem to have been improving in several respects ; in others, however, they have essentially retrograded; and, however great the improvement, on the whole, may be, few, we believe, think that the state of human society will ever become perfect; but this is no more discouraging than the corresponding imperfection in the case of the individual. (See Civilization.) Thirdly, as to perfectibility in a future state. Of course, we cannot mean by future perfection the possibility of attaining unlimited power, wisdom and goodness, because this would destroy all difference between ourselves and God. The word perfectibility, used in reference to man, can, of course, mean nothing more than a capacity of unending improvement, and reason does not rebuke the hope of such a progress. It has been asked whether the happiness to be expected from constant progress in a future state would not be counterbalanced by a despondency arising from the consciousness of imperfection, which would only increase with the increase of knowledge. Such a question seems sufficiently answered by the happiness which virtuous effort, and a consciousness of improvement, gives on earth. The beautiful illustration of Leibnitz, when he compared the relation between blessed spirits and the Deity to that existing between the asymptote (q. v.) and the hyperbola, the former of which is mathematically proved to approach the latter ad infinitum, without ever reaching it, is well known; but, though a beautiful comparison, it throws no light upon the question. " Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him."