Our immediate knowledge of truths may be called intuitive knowledge, and the truths so known may be called self-evident truths.

Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy

Reaching at least as far back to Plato and Socrates, we can discern a thread in the history of Western thought: the idea of perfection. Certainly this idea stretches back as far as recorded history and is at the root of every major religion. Hinduism and Buddhism both can be seen as heavily influenced by the idea of human perfection. The Judeo-Christian concept of humanity as being created in the image of God is simply the same idea in reverse. Indeed, in many traditions, the concept of God is no different than the perfection of everything.

It is easy to see how this idea of perfection comes about. Let’s say, for example, that we see many horses in our daily lives. Some are sick (worse) while others are healthy (better); some are weak (worse) while others are strong (better); some are slow (worse) while others are fast (better). It is a natural, inductive, leap then to the ideal horse which is perfectly healthy, perfectly strong, and perfectly fast. It doesn’t even bother us that much that the idea of perfectly strong make no sense – given some examples of horses, we can quickly decide what the perfect horse ought to be like.

Thus we take examples in our everyday lives and extrapolate attributes which we then try to attribute to the perfection of things. The attributes which we extrapolate are referred to by philosophers as “Universals” — such as strength, health, and speed. Philosophers then get stuck in a rut of arguing about the attributes of these attributes, in trying to extrapolate the attributes of the extrapolations, leading to conundrum after conundrum and paradox after paradox.

As Wittgenstein warns us, we should not look for truth in what amounts to language games.

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