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Perfectibility denotes an anthropological concept as well as an ideal of the Enlightenment ; the name was transferred from French to German around the middle of the 18th century and reproduced here with both “perfection” and “perfection”.

In the second half of the 18th century, an anthropological and ethical conception of the concept of perfectibility dominated. Many enlighteners consider humans physically, intellectually and morally to be capable of development and improvement. He is understood as that living being who is furthest from the possible perfection at birth . Rousseau sees perfectibility and freedom of choice as the only differences between animals and humans. In contrast to humans, animals cannot acquire anything, but they also have nothing to lose. Humans, on the other hand, continue to develop culturally, but there is the possibility of failure, for example through "accidents", which means that they can fall behind the animal. So by no means only perfection and higher development are expected, but with regard to the individual and culture also the possibility of deterioration and decay. The term “ corruptibility ” emerges as a counter-term to perfectibility . The perfectibility drives the development of humanity and morality , but the process is always threatened by the possible relapse into barbarism .

In the last third of the 18th century, rationalist Protestant theology took up the idea of ​​perfectibility and interpreted the history of Christianity as a process of perfection. In the course of history there will be an ever purer expression of what is called the 'spirit' or 'essence' of Christianity. Through its inherent perfectibility, Christianity will prove its superiority and develop into the universal religion of all humanity. Kierkegaard , among others , decided against this thesis , who saw in it an inadmissible relativization of the religious and ethical normativity of biblical Christianity.

In the 19th century, perfectibility also became a historical-philosophical and cultural-historical term. The meaning shifts from the mere ability to perfect to the historical process of actual perfection. This process runs purposefully as increasing relief of living conditions and perfection of culture. Furthermore, the intellectual and intellectual educational ability of the human being is the prerequisite for the scientific and cultural progress that has already occurred and is still to be expected . The process of cultural perfection can be experienced in the abolition of slavery , female emancipation , growing scientific knowledge, the general humanization of living conditions and the development of international law .


  • R. Baum, S. Neumeister, G. Hornig: Perfection. In: Historical Dictionary of Philosophy . Vol. 7, pp. 238-244.
  • Ernst Behler: Infinite perfectibility. European Romanticism and French Revolution. Schöningh, Paderborn 1989, ISBN 3-506-70707-8 ( review ; PDF; 326 kB)
  • G. Hornig: Perfectibility. In: Archive for the history of concepts. XXIV 1980, pp. 221-257.
  • Ursula Reitemeyer: perfectibility versus perfection. Rousseau's theory of social practice. Lit, Münster 1995, ISBN 3-8258-2643-0 .
  • Andreas Schulz: The "course of nature" and the "perfectibility" of humans. Knowledge bases and ideas of childhood since the Enlightenment. In: Lothar Gall , Andreas Schulz (Ed.): Knowledge communication in the 19th century . Steiner, Stuttgart 2003, pp. 15-40.

Web links

Wiktionary: perfectibility  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (first edition 1755): Treatise on the origin and the foundations of inequality among people . Translated from the French and edited by Philipp Rippel. Reclam, Stuttgart, Bibliographically amended edition 2010. First part.