Assuming it's possible for someone to be absolutely perfect, can we get an idea of what is socially considered "perfect" (in a manner or way that could not be better) through linguistics?

For example, the following phrases seem quite common: "perfectly elegant" "perfectly willing" "perfectly flexible"

All of these phrases can be used in the context of "in a manner or way that could not be better."

But instead of saying "perfectly powerful," the following phrase is more common: "absolutely powerful"

Does that mean power is never perfect? And if the phrase "perfectly powerful" is never used, does that mean the general public thinks power isn't a positive trait?

P.S. Can you complete the list of traits socially considered to be necessary for absolute perfection and the list of traits that aren't necessary?

  • 1
    'perfectly despicable', could be an equivocation. not sure! if not, it doesn't easily well with 'morally perfect'. strange, that perfection doesn't fit well with 'power'
    – user38026
    Aug 27, 2019 at 1:40
  • I guess there, it's a different meaning of perfect, maybe "completely." But "perfectly" not fitting well with power makes me think that none of the definitions of perfect fits power. Aug 27, 2019 at 1:43
  • "not qualified or diminished in any way; total" cf "in a manner or way that could not be better." maybe we tend to assume in everyday language that power itself is not good; or ironically perfect either. i'm not sure if this is a (raw) philosophy question, or not. buddhism has the six perfections, don't know anything analogous outside that
    – user38026
    Aug 27, 2019 at 1:46
  • Yea, but there is not a sociology SE, so I thought this forum included sociology. Aug 27, 2019 at 1:50
  • 2
    "Perfectly round" and "perfectly square" would comprise very different and exclusive "traits", this question doesn't make much sense from this perspective. All that remains seems to be: the difference between "power" and "elegant, willing, flexible"
    – christo183
    Aug 27, 2019 at 5:48

2 Answers 2


Nice question!

The Sanskrit word "purnam", also the Latin "plenum", are often source/target translations for English "perfect". Purnam is evoked in a widely cited vedic mantra :

Om! purnam ada purnam idam purnat purnam udachyate
Purnasya purnam adaya purnam evava shishyate Om!

A quasi-translation would be :

That (transcendental reality – God) is purnam.
This (mundane reality) is (also) purnam.
From that purnam this purnam (came/comes/generated – tense ambiguous).
When you take away the purnam from the purnam the purnam alone remains!

The difficulty in this translation is of course the untranslated "purnam".

  • One can render it as "whole" "complete" etc.
  • One can equally render it as "the Infinite"
  • And one can render it as "perfect"

Note the first two are in obvious contradiction :
A whole is defined, de-limited
The infinite is unlimited (and in most math) undefined

"Perfect" carries that contradiction in itself.


Natural languages are full of idioms and conventions that have little or no philosophical significance. For instance, it is true that 'perfectly powerful' is not idiomatic; we are more likely to say 'X has absolute power' or 'X is omnipotent'. ('Absolutely powerful' is not idiomatic, incidentally; the relevant idioms are those I've just indicated.) However, this is just a quirk of natural language. The following is an example in which 'perfectly powerful' is used with full philosophical justification and in which its lack of idiomatic currency is irrelevant:

The concept of God is the concept of a maximally powerful perfect being, a being who, among other impressive attributes, has the maximal degree of power it is possible (in a broadly logical or metaphysical sense) to exemplify. God is thus ajperfect being who is perfectly powerful. To specify this further, the traditional theist typically makes three claims. First, there are and can be no independent, externally determined constraints on divine power. Secondly, the internally determined structure and scope of God's abilities to act (those parameters on divine action set by his own nature and activity) are not, and cannot be, such that he lacks any possible ability or power it is intrinsically better to have than to lack. And finally, God is the sole source and continuous support of all the power there is or could be. Thus, no individual can possibly exemplify or exercize any ability, capacity or power whose existence does not ultimately derive from God.

(Thomas V. Morris, 'Perfection and Power', International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 20, No. 2/3 (1986), pp. 165- 168: 166.)

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