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“Perfectionism” is a term that began to gain currency among Anglo-American philosophers during the 1970s, due, in large part, to its use by John Rawls (1921–2002) in A Theory of Justice to designate one of the moral and political theories to which he was opposed (see Rawls, John). Although his principal target in that work is not perfectionism but utilitarianism (see Consequentialism; Utilitarianism), he takes both to share a single structure: each proposes a theory of what is good, and each defines moral rightness as the maximization of that good (which, in order to avoid circularity, is identified independently of rightness). Utilitarianism, as he defines it, holds that an action is right if and only if it maximizes the satisfaction of rational desires. Perfectionism similarly proposes that right actions maximize something, namely “the realization of human excellence in the various forms of culture” (1999: 22).
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe International Encyclopedia of Ethics
EditorsHugh Lafollette
PublisherWiley Publishing
ISBN (Electronic)9781444367072
StatePublished - 2013


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