Wednesday, 8 February 2012


The parallel existence of two concepts of perfection, one strict ("perfection," as such) and the other loose ("excellence"), has given rise — perhaps since antiquity but certainly since the Renaissance — to a singular paradox: that the greatest perfection is imperfection. This was formulated by Lucilio Vanini (1585–1619), who had a precursor in the 16th-century writer Joseph Juste Scaliger, and they in turn referred to the ancient philosopher Empedocles. Their argument, as given by the first two, was that if the world were perfect, it could not improve and so would lack "true perfection," which depends on progress. To Aristotle, "perfect" meant "complete" ("nothing to add or subtract"). To Empedocles, according to Vanini, perfection depends on incompleteness ("perfectio propter imperfectionem"), since the latter possesses a potential for development and for complementing with new characteristics ("perfectio complementii"). This view relates to the baroque esthetic of Vanini and Marin Mersenne: the perfection of an art work consists in its forcing the recipient to be active—to complement the art work by an effort of mind and imagination.

The paradox of perfection—that imperfection is perfect—applies not only to human affairs, but to technology. Thus, irregularity in semiconductor crystals (an imperfection, in the form of contaminants) is requisite for the production of semiconductors. The solution to the apparent paradox lies in a distinction between two concepts of "perfection": that of regularity, and that of utility. Imperfection is perfect in technology, in the sense that irregularity is useful.

No comments:

Post a Comment