I often hear people quip, "Don't let 'perfect' be the enemy of 'good'". In particular contexts, this statement makes good sense. Don't allow perfectionism to prevent you from finishing a task or a project. Since we don't know what perfect looks like, we may be spending time adding an unnecessary feature. However, this statement is often said as a truism, as if it could stand on its own without additional clarification or context. In this last sense, I heartily disagree.
A thing is perfect when it cannot change without ceasing to be perfect. This seems like stating the obvious. Definitions usually are obvious. However, the conclusions drawn from them are often surprising. The word "good" however, tends to resist definition because to define it puts you in a particular philosophical camp. In this case, I'll lean on Thomas Aquinas, and say that a thing is good when it is desirable for its own sake or useful for achieving what is desirable for its own sake. (yes, it's confusing). With these two definitions, though, we suddenly see that the statement "Don't let 'perfect' be the enemy of 'good'" doesn't make sense. Something which is perfect would be extremely desirable, otherwise it wouldn't be perfect!
Now, there may be some balking at that last statement, but let's consider the following:
- When working on a task, it can be done less well or more well
- It is naturally more desirable for a task to be well done and less desireable to be less well done.
- Having a task perfectly done would be the most desirable
- the more desirable a thing is, the more good it is
- Therefore having a task perfect done would be the most good
Again this is probably obvious and pedantic, and yet here we have to be careful. Are we humans capable of accomplishing any task perfectly on our own?
No, we can't. We can't accomplish anything good on our own.
This would require a much longer conversation to truly dig out of this problem, but I'm tired, so I'll jump to the end: We are only capable of accomplishing good when we cooperate with Perfect Goodness Himself. And He will only accept perfection.