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This is a pretty common fallacious statement that people make every now and then.

Point me to any software that has been released without bugs? I think your expectations might be a tad high.

It's pretty obvious what's wrong and it's easily retorted but I had trouble finding out what's it called exactly, it sounds like a type of Whataboutism but strangely generalized?

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    Would need to see a little more context. Nikos's answer seems quite likely and I gave him a thumbs up. But it might not even be a fallacy, depending on the rest of the conversation.
    – Boba Fit
    Dec 9, 2022 at 13:35
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    Did the previous speaker suggest "no bugs is possible?" If not, it's a simple misdirection (strawman at worst), but not necessarily fallacious. If the argument is about how many bugs is acceptable for a certain kind of release, then a minimum needs to be established somehow. Suggesting zero is impossible seems a good enough start.
    – user10479
    Dec 9, 2022 at 20:14
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    I think the only fallacy here might be your interpretation of the statement. The statement doesn't say "Perfection is impossible, therefore imperfection should be overlooked". The statement says, "Perfection is rare, don't expect it". In the context of software development, this doesn't mean you should code carelessly, but simply that the expectation of a (bigger) software project containing no bugs is simply unrealistic. Dec 9, 2022 at 20:16
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    Does this answer your question? What fallacy argues that we should do nothing because we can not do everything?
    – Conifold
    Dec 10, 2022 at 0:38
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    Read literally, the two sentences you quoted don't state any conclusion which they purport to follow from the premise that all software has bugs. Since it's your own hypothetical example, it would be best if you gave an example where the premises and conclusion are stated, rather than one where we are supposed to guess what the conclusion is.
    – kaya3
    Dec 11, 2022 at 18:32

9 Answers 9

17

What is this fallacy: Perfection is impossible, therefore imperfection should be overlooked

Well, you’ve got yourself a straw man: "The straw man is a fallacy in which an opponent's argument is overstated or misrepresented in order to be more easily attacked or refuted.” ThoughtCo.com, Nordquist (September 11, 2019). Here, the straw man is the implication that the adversary is demanding perfection, when that person might only be suggesting improvements.

Interestingly, in the United Kingdom this technique is often called an Aunt Sally. ThoughtCo.com.

The earlier answers by Roger Vadim and Nikos M. are also good.

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  • Maybe Aunt Sally is falling out of use. I've heard strawman a lot, never heard Aunt Sally. Dec 11, 2022 at 23:27
  • @theonlygusti. Both the online Merriam-Webster and the Free dictionary include this meaning and confine it to the U.K. That said, I had never seen it before, either, and the term might be falling into disuse. Dec 12, 2022 at 0:39
15

One could mention here Loki's wager:

Loki's Wager is the unreasonable insistence that a concept cannot be defined, and therefore cannot be discussed.

However, closer to the description in the OP is the Nirvana fallacy... which goes in the opposite direction:

The nirvana fallacy is the informal fallacy of comparing actual things with unrealistic, idealized alternatives. It can also refer to the tendency to assume there is a perfect solution to a particular problem. A closely related concept is the "perfect solution fallacy".

By creating a false dichotomy that presents one option which is obviously advantageous—while at the same time being completely implausible—a person using the nirvana fallacy can attack any opposing idea because it is imperfect. Under this fallacy, the choice is not between real world solutions; it is, rather, a choice between one realistic achievable possibility and another unrealistic solution that could in some way be "better".

Moving the goalposts probably goes in the desired direction, but is less standard as a fallacy name. However, in this case we should be talking not about perfection, but about a justifiable (or a priori agreed) standard of performance, which is not being attained.

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    I see "impossible standard fallacy" used far more frequently than "nirvana fallacy". And yes, an impossible standard fallacy IS often used in conjunction with a "raising the goal posts fallacy", as a limit case when a discounted idea inconveniently passes several goal posts. At any rate, I agree the OP seems to be treading a lot closer to being fallacious than the disputant. As others noted, we need to see the context, fallacies are very context dependent
    – Dcleve
    Dec 9, 2022 at 15:24
  • @Dcleve I think here it is a fight of two fallacies: the OP expects perfection, while their interlocutor justifies a substandard performance. Dec 9, 2022 at 15:28
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    When one combines black and white fallacy with Whataboutism in the presence of human imperfection, yes, the disputant certainty could be committing a fallacy of rejecting all standards of goodness as well. that is why context is needed.
    – Dcleve
    Dec 9, 2022 at 15:36
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    @Dcleve Raising the goalposts makes goals easier to achieve. Did you mean raising the bar?
    – Rosie F
    Dec 9, 2022 at 21:11
  • @Dcleve Moving the goalposts? Dec 12, 2022 at 16:02
14

There's no fallacy in this statement at all. It seems you complained about the quality of some software, and it was pointed out to you that someone doesn't believe you will find any software that meets your quality requirements. And that therefore your expectations are indeed too high.

A similar statement would be "we can create bug free software, but you wouldn't be able to pay for it". Which shows very nicely where your statement is wrong: Nobody said perfection is impossible. Someone said perfection is so rarely achieved that you won't be able to show an example. I added that perfection isn't achieved because you cannot afford to pay for it.

@RockpaperZ: You are welcome to show me that a fallacy exists. Even the initial "Perfection is impossible, therefore imperfection should be overlooked", is a perfectly logical statement. It's not useful, but there is no fallacy. More useful would be "High quality is hard to achieve, and not cheap, so don't demand more quality than you can reasonably expect for what you pay". You are also welcome to show the "easy retort".

And I assume that comparing people to "corrupt politicians" won't get you many bonus points either.

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    But usually when this is said, the expectation wasn't bug-free software, only software with fewer bugs.
    – user253751
    Dec 9, 2022 at 20:25
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    Only on Stack Exchange would this answer quickly get so many upvotes. Fortunately, upvoting bias doesn't equate to honesty or reality. Dec 9, 2022 at 20:26
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    For example, one might complain that their computer crashes reliably every 30 minutes, and be told "point me to software without bugs." While bug-free software doesn't exist, software that doesn't crash every 30 minutes is not difficult to find.
    – user253751
    Dec 9, 2022 at 20:27
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    I have seen programmers who think that their code actually working is less important than conforming to their design. I have seen end users who think that the code ought to read their minds when handed ambiguous data. It is impossible to determine which is which except by hand-sorting.
    – Mary
    Dec 10, 2022 at 0:10
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    @RockPaperLz-MaskitorCasket Is it dishonest or unrealistic to call out exaggerated expectations? Because that's what the given statement implies, and that's what this answer (correctly) argues. The OP's given statement pretty clearly implies the expectation of "zero bugs". This answer assumes information about the disconnect between requirements and delivered functionality, but it does miss the fact that differing definitions of "perfection" exist in the given scenario. If that's what you were trying to point out, then you were right, but casting it in terms of honesty is kind of ugly.
    – Beanluc
    Dec 10, 2022 at 20:31
13

It is an instance of black-white or all-or-nothing thinking. If it cannot be white then it must be black.

Leaving out a plethora of intermediate levels, which may be arbitrarily close to white.

2
  • But I think the OP is arguing a case for moving toward white, when those opposed to the move are saying that "Light gray is good enough. When have you ever seen something completely white?" Dec 9, 2022 at 21:06
  • @robertbristow-johnson maybe you are right, but I intend to discuss this aspect, which is also part of the question ".. thus (any) imperfection should be overlooked".
    – Nikos M.
    Dec 10, 2022 at 7:34
6

This is an example of a false dichotomy

A false dilemma (sometimes also referred to as a false dichotomy) is a logical fallacy, which occurs when a limited number of options are incorrectly presented as being mutually exclusive to one another or as being the only options that exist, in a situation where that isn’t the case. For example, a false dilemma occurs in a situation where someone says that we must choose between options A or B, without mentioning that option C also exists.

The viewpoint that they're giving is that either A) you must achieve perfection, or B) you must avoid working on imperfections. The avoided option C is that it's possible to improve by removing imperfections, but without committing to perfection. By limiting the discussion to A and B, they're able to claim that since A is impossible, B must be the only choice.

5
  • “The perfect is the enemy of the good,” an aphorism for which Wikipedia gives many variations. At least one, “letting the perfect be the enemy of the good,” is a name for this fallacy.
  • The Perfect Solution Fallacy, “The logical error that assumes a perfect solution to a problem exists, and rejects proposed solutions on the grounds that they are imperfect solutions.”

I would call that an assumption that is often unsound, and not an error of logical validity at all. If there is a perfect solution, that is in fact a good argument to reject all solutions that are worse. For example, a programmer should not code a sub-optimal algorithm when an optimal one (in the ways that actually matter) is known to exist.

8
  • Somewhat related: Worse is better - the design philosophy of accepting a simple design that works, even if it's not ideal. The term was coined in 1989, probably well before the term "technical debt"... (The term "worse" doesn't have to mean the kinds of things that technical debt refers to, but I think there's some connection between accepting warts in a design e.g. of a programming language, vs. in the architecture of a program.) Dec 11, 2022 at 17:06
  • @PeterCordes Right, sometimes you want to optimize for development time, not asymptotic speed or memory as a function of the input size. i think the example I gave still stands up as a real-world case where we can prove that a solution mathematically optimizes something.
    – Davislor
    Dec 11, 2022 at 17:09
  • "The perfect is the enemy of the good" is actually something that the OP's enemy could say to them. The fallacy the OP is trying to point out that exists in their quote might be a close fit for the perfect solution fallacy. But "the perfect is the enemy of the good" is what someone can rebut the OP with, in context meaning: "we shouldn't strive for perfection like you say because that will hinder progress overall" (which is what their quotation is saying) Dec 12, 2022 at 2:16
  • Rephrasing the OP's quotation to: "It's useless to remove bugs from the software, because the software will always have bugs" is a perfect example of the perfect solution fallacy. However, "the perfect is the enemy of the good" would be a rebuttal to "strive for perfect bug-free software". Your two bullet points are opposites of each other. Dec 12, 2022 at 2:22
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    @theonlygusti “Letting the perfect be the enemy of the good,” is a name for the fallacy.
    – Davislor
    Dec 12, 2022 at 4:06
1

This is sometimes called the Nirvana fallacy. Wikipedia gives some very similar examples, such as:

These anti-drunk driving ad campaigns are not going to work. People are still going to drink and drive no matter what.

However, remember the principle of charity: try to find the strongest possible interpretation of what others say and address that. Chances are your coworker meant something closer to "This software has very few bugs, so we can safely release it" rather than "We shouldn't care about bugs at all." (If they meant the latter, they probably would've been fired a long time ago!)

2
  • this is the best answer and should be accepted despite its timing. thanks
    – user63756
    Dec 11, 2022 at 0:11
  • The Nirvana fallacy, as the wikipedia article and another answer describe, is kind of the exact opposite of the fallacy the question is asking for. Actually, the example you have quoted is an example of the perfect solution fallacy. You quoted it from your linked Wikipedia's page's section on the perfect solution fallacy. Dec 12, 2022 at 2:11
0

It depends what you mean by "overlooked", as well as in what sense perfection is "impossible".

If it is metaphysically impossible to be morally perfect (maybe only God can be), then this reflects on our virtue or character, even-though we do nothing immoral (ought implies can). Not so if it is just extremely difficult.

One problem with the argument is, if you take it literally, its premise is not true. Nothing is stopping perfection except how unlikely it is, and it is not so much impossible as it is extremely difficult. I assume the argument is being used to conclude either that perfection should not be pursued (which may be right) or that imperfections should not be fixed (seems like a poor argument for that: even if fixing everything is impractical, maybe things should be fixed).

-1

I am more on the side of the OP.

I am involved in the Ranked-Choice Voting discussion and I get this excuse all of the time from promoters of RCV in the commonly-used form (Hare). It begins with complete denial of the existence of the problems and then, if they are still in the discussion, a complete denial that the problems are worthy of fixing.

It's like First-Past-The-Post is "Democracy 1.0" and Hare RCV is version 2.0 and they are like a software company that just insists that the bugs are "features" and will not revise the product to version 2.1.

Sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good.

But not in every case.

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    This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. - From Review
    – BillOnne
    Dec 10, 2022 at 18:56
  • Looks like Mark Andrews and Mr. White disagree with you, @BillOnne . My answer gives support to the OP's question and the premise behind it that is being disputed by some of the other answers. Dec 10, 2022 at 20:31

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