Perfect imperfect

I’m not a perfectionist. I never finish jobs properly. This is not laziness, but efficient time management. I never complete a task 100% perfectly. I stop at 90%, or sometimes 70%, then move on to the next job. That means I complete more jobs. Does this bother you? It shouldn’t. It’s not necessary to complete jobs perfectly. To prove this, I won’t even bother to finish this …

… sentence. See? I just added that in case any of you felt anxious by my incompletion.

In addition to not being a perfectionist, I’m also not a Perfectionist. In other words, I don’t believe in the philosophical concept of Perfection.

Plato (or was it Aristotle? I don’t have time to look it up) believed that everything in the real world was an imperfect copy of a perfect form.

See this circle?


It’s not a perfect circle. It’s made out of dots on your computer screen. But Plato believed in perfect circles as a concept. What exactly is a perfect circle? A mathematician will tell you that it’s a shape where each point lies a fixed distance from the centre point.You could say that it can be characterized by a single parameter (its radius.)

But what about this shape?


Is this an imperfect circle? Or is it a perfect ellipse? An ellipse needs two parameters to fully characterize it. Does that make it less perfect than a circle?

What about this shape?


It looks like Mickey Mouse. But is it a perfect Mickey Mouse? Or perhaps a really imperfect circle?

The fact is that it’s a perfect instance of itself.

All this is fine and dandy, because Plato’s dead, and has been for a long time. But the trouble is that lots of people absorbed his ideas of Perfection and blended it with their own unhealthy ideas (of sin, guilt, good, evil and so on) to create a cocktail of horribleness. So now it’s not just circles that are imperfect, it’s human lives. The whole world is now imperfect.

Oh dear, this is a recipe for disaster. And that’s exactly what we see all around us.

So it’s time to put Plato back where he belongs, and to suck up all that nasty guilt and sinfulness and recycle it into something more productive.

Let’s scrap Perfectionism. Instead of regarding the world as broken, or an imperfect copy of some perfect ideal world that never existed, let’s accept the world as real. Let’s take it as we find it, and the same with the people we meet. Don’t think of them as broken or imperfect. Recognize that they are just like Mickey Mouse above – perfect copies of themselves, just as they should be.

Then we can move on and solve the next problem.


16 responses to “Perfect imperfect

  1. Perfectly stated. Oh wait, let me rephrase that: realistically stated. Yes, I feel better already.

    Not to turn this into a religious discussion (oops, too late), but I am struck by how Christianity defines how we are all flawed, how we are born into sin, and we must strive to overcome our naturally flawed, naturally sinful ways by giving ourselves to our perfect God, striving to obey God’s perfect word (i.e., the Bible). At least that’s the way it is here in the United States, which we all know is the most perfect country on God’s green Earth (which, from space, is really more blue than green, but let’s not get too persnickety).

  2. Well, I do not really have anything to add. Just wanted to say I really like this post! Not saying the post was perfect though, haha 😛

  3. Now you know I’m going to have to come to the defense of Plato! A lot of people have problems with the Platonic forms because it’s easy to ridicule—some imaginary world…where everything’s perfect! A perfect paramecium! A perfect pile of poo in the sky! But imagine it as an invisible reality co-existing with so-called “imperfections” in the visible world, making them possible. Don’t like the idea of an invisible reality? I would point you in the direction of mathematical entities.

    Or think of Kant’s a priori causality, or the categories. Then take out the “in my head” part, get rid of noumena (“unknowable things out there”), and you have Plato. (The “in my head” and “unknowable things out there” parts are annoying anyways.)

    All right. So confession, disclaimer, whatever you want to call it. I’m definitely a perfectionist. You don’t even what to know what my sock and underwear drawer looks like. I may have to call on you if I ever want to get things done quickly, because with me, that never happens.

    • I have toyed with this idea of a world of ideas, but can’t persuade myself of it.
      I’m strongly with the computer scientists on this one. I once filled my computer with ideas, but when I turned off the computer, all the ideas seemed to have mysteriously vanished.

      • The ideas? They’re in the cloud. Good thing you believe in backing up, huh? 🙂

        I will read these posts with great interest. In my novel I’m working on a character—a contemporary Thrasymachus—and I hope to make his arguments as strong as possible. I want to present two opposing arguments in their strongest forms, then let the reader decide. I can’t wait to pick your brain!

  4. Is it a coincidence that we refer to the past tense as the perfect tense? In that sense, it means something has finished, and nothing more can be done. Conversely, something that isn’t finished can still be improved on, or played with …. so perfect means dead as opposed to alive!

    • Yes, past actions are perfected, and cannot be improved upon (nor made any worse). They are what they are, as is the present. Only the future is up for grabs.

      Didn’t Douglas Adams once write that following the invention of time travel, the expression “future perfect” was abandoned, because it was found not to be 🙂

  5. Well said. I often say that I find it a lot more rewarding to improve as much as I can over the worst performance than to strive for the perfect performance. One gives me a feeling of accomplishment, the other a perpetual feeling of frustration.

    My attitude toward people is the same. Everyone is flawed. If you try to admire someone for the person they are, there will always be details about them that will eventually disappoint you, and you’ll find few people in the world admirable. But if you admire the good qualities in people, you’ll find an enormous amount to admire in the world. (Of course, you’ll also find a lot to be disappointed in, but that’s going to be true whether or not you celebrate those good qualities.)

  6. Happy Thanksgiving Steve,

  7. Steve, I didn’t know or had forgotten you are in the UK. TY, we had a nice day.

  8. I never read Plato. I suppose he may have been referring to an image that we make in our heads: “the real world was an imperfect copy of a perfect form.” We must come to an awareness that obsession to be perfection or to be recognized as having attained perfections keeps us from making progress. Obsessions are basically unhealthy. It helps me to realize that processes within a human and between humans and their environment are systemic.
    In ancient Rome, a slave stood in the chariot behind a victorious general. He would hold laurel over the general’s head to signify victory. However, in the general’s ear the slave whispered: “All glory is fleeting. All glory is

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