Perfection and hope: A meditation for Erasmus’s birthday

Amor vincat

While wondering what to write about for the birthday of Desiderius Erasmus, I happened upon a book by Naoko Saito entitled The Gleam of Light:  Moral perfectionism and education in Emerson and Dewey.   As Saito expounds it, the notion of perfection as a practical moral aim, and its relation to growth and human flourishing, is both akin to, and different from, the human perfection that Erasmus advocated  — and that Quakers preached and suffered for in Puritan England.  

Saito’s reflections are rooted in a passage from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”: A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages.  As Saito shows, Emerson saw this “gleam of light” as a powerful and precious resource for renewal and authentic creativity.  This “gleam of light” is “transcendent,” in that…

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