Philosophy 159 - 8.4.6 Perfectionism

Another way to approach human flourishing is to think of the highest attainable good for an individual, human nature, or society. This approach to ethics is called perfectionism. There are a variety of ways that perfectionism can be articulated. For Thomas Aquinas, one’s goal in life is to become a perfect image of God (Aquinas [1485] 1948, 439). Enlightenment philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) argued in his Ethics ([1677] 1985) that people pursue what will increase and perfect their powers and capacities. For example, joy allows people to rise to greater perfection, while sadness leads to less perfection. There are many other philosophies of self-perfection across the history of ideas. In each of them, you can see how the concept of well-being is tied to perfecting oneself.

Kant’s Kingdom of Ends

For Kant, values are not psychological states but instead are rational maxims. As explained previously, Kant bases his moral philosophy on the categorical imperative, which helps one recognize moral and immoral actions based on whether they can be turned into a universal maxim that applies to everyone. Kant provides other formulations of the categorical imperative, where he states that one must always treat humans as “ends in themselves” rather than “a means to an end.” This means that you cannot use other people as instruments to achieve your goals.

Kant states that another way to arrive at a universal maxim is to imagine you are creating laws for a kingdom of ends. The kingdom of ends is a hypothetical, ideal society in which every individual is treated as an end and no one is treated as a means to an end. It would be a society of equals, where everyone flourishes. In this sense, Kant’s moral philosophy uses the concept of an ideal or perfect society as a guiding principle.

Japanese Notion of Ikigai (Reason for Being)

Japanese psychology takes up the concept of ikigai (reason for being) to describe well-being. Contemporary psychologist Michiko Kumano describes two senses of well-being in Japan: (1) shiawase, or hedonic well-being, and (2) ikigai, or reason for being. He explains that while shiawase is a state of contentment or happiness and freedom from worry, ikigai deals more with what makes life meaningful. He explains that ikigai is “less philosophical and more intuitive, irrational, and complicated in its nuances than other related terms in Western languages” (Kumano 2017, 421). How does one experience this nuanced, intuitive sense of purpose in life? For Kumano, ikigai has to do with devoting oneself to goals and activities that are aligned with one’s values.

The content of this course has been taken from the free Philosophy textbook by Openstax