Philosophy club studies perfection
September 8, 2021
“Do we have the duty to promote perfection in ourselves and others?” Is there an objective “highest good?” To what degree are we able to promote the development of others around us?
These are the questions that welcomed 10 students to The Salon, Culver Academies’ new philosophy club. The club meets biweekly to seek out the “greater philosophical truth” through intellectual discussion.
The club’s name comes from the salons of the French literary and philosophical movements of the 17th and 18th centuries. The primary purpose of these sessions was “either to please or to educate” those who attended.
Culver's Salon grew out of last year’s Ethics Bowl practice sessions. As the Ethics Bowl team prepared for its state competition, the members discovered they enjoyed the study of the different questions presented and the give-and-take of the discussions. When the Ethics Bowl season was over, some of the team members continued to meet informally to discuss various topics.
This year, under the supervision of Latin and leadership instructor Evan Dutmer, who has a doctorate in ancient philosophy, the club has been formalized as The Salon. The club is open to anyone, and the 10 students attending the first meeting in the Huffington Library agreed to recruit more people before the next session.
Club president Mia Sun '22 (Bloomington, Indiana) started the session with the primary question: “Do we have the duty to promote perfection in ourselves and others?”
Using quotes from philosophers like Aristotle, Socrates, Machiavelli, and the Stoics, the students discussed the meaning of perfection. They agreed that perfection was generally not attainable. But a major question was whether perfection is subjective or objective – can two people have the same view or understanding of what perfection is or should be.
In some cases, Sun said, perfection can be subjective and measured. Seeking perfection could be trying to score 100 percent on a test. Yes, she would be disappointed if she didn’t reach her goal. But, she asked, should that stop her from setting that goal again for the next exam?
Can that constant striving for perfection become “self-destructive?” That is when the discussion turned to understanding failure as a measure of growth. When does the pursuit of perfection become an obstacle instead of a goal? The students agreed that how a person views failure could be the difference between getting better and burning out.
The pursuit of perfection can also be destructive when a person is only concerned about their own interests and welfare. They may go outside the moral and ethical principles to achieve their goal, but the Stoics describe perfection as the ability to reason for the “highest good.” And the Latin term for highest good is where the word “virtue” comes from.
So, should you impose your version of the “highest good” on others? Will it help or hurt those involved? If a “rising tide lifts all boats,” does imposing your ideal on others help them improve as well?
Again, it depends on the individual’s perception of what the “highest good” is. Members believed it could be taught or coached but, at some point, the pursuit of perfection will hit a roadblock. That is because each person has their own “bottom line,” Natalia Somma Tang '24 (San Francisco) explained. Others will not share your view if it crosses their personal bottom line.
Then, after 60 minutes of lively discourse, Sun said it was time to close the first “unfinished” session of The Salon. But the thoughtful exchange of ideas and ideologies was a perfect way to end an evening.