by Elliot Temple
Originally posted on the Beginning of Infinity List, September 6, 2011

We all make mistakes. Lots of mistakes. We are fallible.

Fallible means capable of mistakes or errors. Fallibilism is the philosophy which recognize mistakes as not only possible but commonplace.

People are not perfect. And they cannot be perfect. That's impossible. What they can do is improve indefinitely.

A good life involves progress. Get better. Know more. But there's no stopping point.

Perfection would be a stopping point beyond which further progress is impossible. This makes ideas about perfection pessimistic: they are offering a limit on what can be achieved.

The optimistic and true view is that there is no limit. Unlimited progress is a good thing, and it implies there is no perfection to be attained.

We do not need to be perfect. What we need is to solve our problems.

To solve a problem always requires a limited amount of work. We do something with some amount of precision or effectiveness, and that is good enough to solve the problem to our satisfaction. Being perfect isn't an issue in our lives.

For example, I might want a new computer in order to play a game that my current computer can't play. To solve my problem, I do not need a perfect computer. I just need one good enough for this new game.

I won't want the very minimum for the game to run at all. Then I won't be able to use the top graphical settings or the new features added in an update to the game. And I better have some extra in case I want to run other programs at the same time, like audio chat software to talk to other players.

The problem is a little harder than just playing the new game. I need to be able to play the new game and also use the computer in other routine ways. But so what? A computer that's twice as powerful as the game needs would solve the entire problem.

I definitely don't need a perfect computer.

Other problems are similar. Suppose I want a pet dog. Does it need to have perfect breeding? Nope. It doesn't have to be perfect to fetch, go for walks, and so on. Whatever I want from a pet, my problem will be solved with a pet that good and no better.

Human problems are always limited. The possibilities in life are unbounded but our desires are bounded. That is, our desires right now. Once we finish with our current problems we'll come up with new ones.

Our fallibility is not a curse. It's harmless. We don't need perfection to deal with our limited problems. All we need is the possibility of improving -- by correcting some of our mistakes -- so that we can face and solve new and better problems too, ad infinitum.

(For more of Elliot Temple's writing, visit www.fallibleideas.com )