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Perfect Solution Fallacy

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"Perfection is the enemy of the good enough."

Also Called:

  • Binary thinking
  • Nirvana Fallacy

A subcategory of False Dichotomy, the Perfect Solution Fallacy is arguing that a course of action is no good because it is not perfect. This essentially assumes the opposite of the Golden Mean Fallacy; rather than assuming the extremes cannot exist and the middle is correct, it assumes the middle cannot exist and a solution is either absolutely perfect or entirely undesirable. This is then used to argue that the hypothetical perfect solution must be used, or that a solution is useless because some part of the problem will remain after it has been implemented.

Using reusable bags instead of paper or plastic will help the environment.
However, the ideal solution would be for nobody to use bags at all.
Therefore, since it isn't the best possible single solution, it isn't worth doing at all.

Since, outside of mathematics, a perfect solution to anything is unlikely in the extreme, this fallacy is usually combined with Begging the Question; a debater will assume a "perfect" solution is one which fits their argument and ideals, regardless of whether their opponent would view the result as perfect, or even desirable.

A sneakier form is to not state what the idealised solution actually is, and instead dismiss a position purely because it has flaws at all:

Reusable bags require raw materials, manufacturing, fossil fuel consumption, shipping costs, (and so on).
These flaws clearly show it is not a worthwhile solution.

This will often incorporate "flaws" which are also flaws of the system that would remain if the solution were rejected. This is often the basis of an Appeal to Ignorance; the claim then is that because we don't perfectly understand something, our theories about it are necessarily false, no matter how good the models they generate are.

This fallacy is the basis of the proverbial admonition, "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." The inverse is to argue that something is a good course of action simply because it is "better than nothing," without explaining why it is better than nothing.

Looks like this fallacy but is not:

  • Assuming an opponent wants a perfect solution through use of a Slippery Slope / Hasty Generalisation Fallacy: for example, an opponent claims that minor things X, Y and Z in a videogame are unrealistic, and gets the response "well if it were really realistic you would only get to die once!"
  • Rejecting a solution due to comparison to a concrete and achievable state which is argued to be superior. Rejecting a proposal to eat cold food when you are in a room which has a stove and you have time to cook it is not a perfect solution fallacy. Rejecting a proposal to eat cold food when you are in an ice cave at the North Pole with no method of starting a fire, on the other hand, is.
    • Begging the Question applies here heavily: your opponent must agree that the state in question is concrete and achievable for you to be able to use this as a premise.
  • Rejecting a solution which actually does prevent one agreed to be better from being implemented.
  • Rejecting a solution based on a comparison to the status quo, such as a cost-to-benefit ratio. The fallacy is only committed when one side rejects a solution because it is inferior to an idealised one, not when they reject it because it is inferior to an existing one.
  • Rejecting the presentation of something as an alternative to the current course of action when it is only actually suited as a complement to it; in this instance, the inability to provide 100% replacement means it cannot be regarded as an alternative. For example, "alternative" electrical sources are not capable of providing 100% of a country's energy needs, and therefore cannot be accurately described as an alternative to more conventional generating methods.
  • Rejecting a "good enough" proposal when one desires to future proof. For example, building a city sewage system that can handle the exact needs of the city today is not satisfactory to a requirement for a sewage system that can handle the next thirty years of projected growth. Over the long term, "good enough" can become the enemy of the good.


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    Comic Books 


  • In Andros Vs. Marinette, Marinette Dupain-Cheng goes full Ron the Death Eater and tries to steal Andros' Morpher (that ends up being a very bad idea) because she is fed up with going absolutely nowhere in dealing with Hawk Moth with the Miraculous Ladybug powers alone.
  • As far as Knowledge is Power (and Harry Potter badfic in general) is concerned, the fact that Dumbledore's plan to defeat Voldemort was not certain to work, and could not guarantee that Harry would survive the war even if it did work, makes him as evil as Voldemort himself.
  • In the Miraculous Ladybug fic How Not To Propose, Adrien refuses to propose to his girlfriend because he wants the moment to be absolutely perfect when he does: scenery, food, music, everything. Naturally, the universe conspires to ruin all his attempts at setting up such a moment, and Adrien's inability to compromise ends up prolonging the situation so badly that Adrien's girlfriend begins to wonder if he's serious about their relationship at all.
    Plagg: Adrien! You have to be kidding me! That was the third custom jeweler we visited. Do you even know what you want?
  • There Was Once an Avenger From Krypton: Comes up as part of the big reveal in Chapter 34 of The Girl Who Could Knock Out the Hulk about the villains' motives: Doom and original Reed wishing to see Thanos defeated with little-to-no damage to Earth and humanity beyond what is necessary in the base MCU's "script" isn't really a bad thing, but the lengths they're willing to go to, including shoving new races into the Kryptonverse simply to serve as cannon fodder against the Black Order so Earth has less to deal with, shows that their (but especially Doom's) obsession with a "perfect victory" on their own terms has made it impossible for Kara to bring herself to work with them.

  • This is popular when answering a technical question on the internet: "There is no solution to your problem which I can guarantee to work in 100% of all cases. So I'm not going to bother telling you what will work in 99% of all cases."
    • Also common is ignoring the stated problem on the grounds that the questioner has in their ignorance already failed to follow a "perfect" approach or methodology and should never have come upon that question in the first place. In other words: "I won't give you the solution you're asking for, because the knowledge would clutter your mind. You should instead try to solve this problem, which will allow a more perfect solution." Especially annoying as while the odds are good responses of this type will satisfy the original questioner's needs and thus end the dialogue, there's bound to be somebody else who's already familiar with the issues, genuinely does need an answer to the question, and now has unhelpful nonanswers cluttering the search space.
  • You will hear this combined with Poisoning the Well if you hang around a review site for any length of time; always in defence of something the poster likes that scored poorly. "Well, reviewer A might say that about game Z, but reviewer A scored game Y too high / low, so obviously this site is not trustworthy." The implication is that because the site's reviews are not perfect, they are worthless.
  • Commonly used to impugn the reliability of wikis, usually The Other Wiki. The fact that there's no way to permanently protect every single page from all vandalism or absolutely confirm that every last sentence added in good faith is absolutely true over all scenarios, becomes an excuse to claim the wiki is always wrong. Imagine if people held print encyclopedias to this standard.

  • Dr Cocteau from Demolition Man turned Los Angeles from a dystopian, almost wartorn hellhole into a clean, prosperous and completely peaceful city in 30 years. There is only a small group who consider the place a Crapsaccharine World, almost everyone else seems perfectly content to live in the city. Then Dr Cocteau decides that small group is such a stain on his perfect society that he engineers the jailbreak of an Axe-Crazy Human Popsicle from that violent past, who goes on a muderous rampage through the city even before he breaks free of Cocteau's control, just to kill that group's leader.

  • In Cooking With Wild Game, Zattsu Tsun argues that because the law is racist in a certain few situations that have nothing to do with what he's on trial for, he should be allowed to get away with murder. His judges/fellow tribesmen, who suffered the same oppression Zattsu did and have been victimized by his sadism for generations, are not impressed.

    Live-Action TV 
  • An episode of The Daily Show lampooned a group of Fox News personalities who claimed that a proposed tax increase on the super-rich was worthless in eliminating the federal debt because it would generate "only" an additional $700 billion over 10 years, a small fraction of the overall debt. (Stewart and Co. then went on to show that raising taxes on the lowest-earning 50% of the population could only generate the same amount by claiming HALF of all of their material wealth in taxes.)
  • Used in several episodes of Penn & Teller: Bullshit!. When discussing the Americans with Disabilities Act, P&T take a man and his iron lung for a walk through town, noting several ADA-compliant shops and facilities that cannot accommodate him. No matter what accommodations a business implements, they state, somebody will always be left out, so why should the government be allowed to set and enforce an arbitrary standard?
  • A meta-example in a Star Trek: Voyager episode where the crew discards a new propulsion method, the quantum slipstream drive, because the field becomes unstable after a little while. Nobody brings up the possibility of using QSD for repeated hops until they get home. (Granted, the Anthropic Principle requires them to not consider this or else the show would be over.)
  • Star Trek: Picard:
    • In "Absolute Candor", Jean-Luc Picard is called out on this by Zani, having chosen to Resign in Protest from Starfleet and do nothing afterwards rather than listen to Raffi's suggestion that they find another way, however imperfect, to continue the relocation of Romulans without Starfleet's support.
      Zani: Because you could not save everyone, you chose to save no one.
      Picard: (nods) Yes. I allowed the perfect to become the enemy of the good.
    • Soundly defied in "The Impossible Box" when Picard sees the work being done at the Borg Reclamation Project. He commends Hugh for doing an imperfect job the best way he can.
      Hugh: The outcomes are far from ideal.
      Picard: What you're doing is good, Hugh. There's no need for it to be perfect.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Discussed in "The Hunted." The Angosians had no idea what to do with their augmented Super Soldiers because Angosia is No Place for a Warrior. When they failed to figure out a way to completely remove the soldiers' combat conditioning, they just sent every single soldier to a lunar prison colony. Picard and his bridge crew call out the Angosian government for not even trying to help them.
    Troi: Even a partial recovery may give them some peace.
  • Halt and Catch Fire: In season 3, Cameron argues that they should hold off on taking Mutiny public for a year or two until they make what she considers to be vital improvements to the business. Donna argues that interest has peaked now and that they shouldn't risk a good thing for a chance at something better in the future. She explicitly accuses Cameron of making perfect the enemy of good. However, it seems that Cameron was right in the end. Mutiny's IPO flops, and the company goes under within four years.

    Video Games 
  • This fallacy is frequently the driving force behind Too Awesome to Use items or power-ups in video games; instead of using that all-powerful item in a situation that a player knows it would be helpful, they elect not to use it on the off-chance that an even more optimal situation will present itself somewhere down the line. As a result, such items quite often end up sitting in the player's inventory for a long period of time before they get used, if they get used at all.
  • This is often used by people who complain about the Tribunal in League of Legends. "The Tribunal is supposed to punish trolls. There are still trolls in the game, therefore it doesn't work."
  • In the Laurentia story arc from Nexus Clash, this was the Fatal Flaw of Lucien Moreau. A spectacularly lucky man who enjoyed great success at everything he put his mind to, Lucien imagined that his only suitable successor would be one who not only matched his achievements, but lacked the flaws and shortcomings that had held him back from doing even more. When all four of his children turned out to be merely excellent and not perfect, his backlash and meddling in their lives created enough problems that when he died, it kicked off a Succession Crisis that ended in a way that honored none of his will.
  • This is the main reason why Mercy in Overwatch was completely re-worked. Under her old ability kit, the developers noticed that players would play Mercy too passively and were more than willing to pocket her active ultimate (which resurrected any dead teammates in her vicinity). Instead of "wasting" it on one or two revivals, players would try to wait for a moment for a near-or-full-team revive, and usually wind up not using it and being unhelpful if a perfect scenario did not present itself. Thus, the developers reworked her character where she has a revival ability on a 30-second cooldown and an ultimate that enhanced her abilities, allowing players to be more aggressive in keeping players alive instead of being trapped in the fallacy.
  • A side mission in Spider-Man (PS4) has Spider-Man try a cloaking device that allows him to become invisible, with the disadvantage that when the cloaking field is active it interferes with his web shooters, so he can't use them while he's invisible. After the mission ends, Spider-Man concludes that the device isn't worth it because he can't shoot web while using it, so he discards it, entirely ignoring all the advantages invisibility allows when he's not fighting (such as easy sneaking, which would prevent a lot of the problems he'll face later in the game) and the fact that he can turn it on and off at any moment, which means even keeping it for an emergency would have been a good idea.

  • Voltaire's quote is paraphrased by Ben in Doc Rat when talking with Wilbur Fuzz about the latter's cardiac arrest. Wilbur is joking in his usual Pungeon Master way that a bull had to have been involved in his rescue.
  • Discussed this strip of The Order of the Stick, when Roy is getting evaluated by a daeva. The daeva says humans should just accept that they are not infallible and just try to be the best they can.
    Daeva:...But it's the struggle that matters. It's easy for a being of pure Law and Good to live up to these ideals, but you're a mortal. What matters is when you blow it, you get back up on the horse and try again.
    • By the Final Arc, it's become clear that Redcloak has succumbed to this alongside the Sunk Cost Fallacy. He has virtually everything he could realistically get offered to him and not have to work with Xykon anymore. But the cost would mean saying everything he did was for naught and there would still be the chance for goblins to be killed by the other demihuman races. Redcloak rejects Durkon's offer with an implosion, arguing nothing less but divine recognition would be enough. Furthermore, he's too caught up in his own plan to notice its failings, such as the lack of gurantee the next world would have humanoids (including goblinoids) in general. In his defense though, this could be attributed to The Dark One's lack of communication and the mechinations of third-parties.)
  • Solomon David in Kill Six Billion Demons is looking for someone to replace him as ruler of his part of the Multiverse so that he may focus on enlightenment and meditation, but because of his immense pride, rather than simply appointing a successor or training one of his sons to succeed him, he wants to find someone better than him, which he hasn't been able to in millenia.

    Western Animation 
  • In Bojack Horseman, a Fatal Flaw of Diane Nguyen is that she refuses to be pragmatic or compromise her position at all. This leads her into all kinds of trouble when she tries to take on the elites of Hollywoo, believing that the truth will make itself known if she only keeps pushing hard enough. Too bad that Hollywoo is such a Crapsack World that things don't work like that.
  • In The Owl House, Eda's mother Gwendolyn has trouble with this fallacy. She loves Eda, and genuinely wants to help her with her curse, but she wants a 100% cure rather than a treatment like the potions, which she distrusts. As a result, not only has she wasted a lot of time and resources, especially since her drive makes her vulnerable to scam artists, but she's alienated both her daughters, Eda for continually coming around for years with "cures" that don't work, and Lilith for neglecting her in favor of Eda.

  • There’s that old saying: if a thing is not worth being well done, then it’s not worth being done at all. Which itself is an inversion of an older saying that defies this trope — "If a thing's worth doing, it's worth doing right."
  • The ultimate example is rejecting anything you feel like on the basis that it has been imperfectly proven; for example, rejecting the existence of China on the basis that you have never seen it.note  This inevitably results in a philosophical concept called solipsism since it is impossible to prove beyond all possible doubt anything barring your own mind (maybe not even that).
  • People who attempt to scare people into abstaining from sex often use this fallacy, with the argument that since condoms don't prevent pregnancy and STDs 100% of the time, they are useless. The "perfect" solution of "abstinence" is also Begging the Question, since most people who want a method of preventing pregnancy and STD transmission want it because they intend to have sex. It's rather like saying the best way to avoid straining muscles during a workout is to not exercise.
  • Used often by anti-vaccinationists. Their reasoning: a particular measles vaccine only protects 95% of the time, so they'd rather take their chances with a potentially fatal disease. In addition to being an instance of this fallacy, this reasoning also ignores that, due to herd immunity, 95% of the time is more than enough.
    • Likewise, in many cases the anti-vaccine group uses the potential for side effects to argue against vaccines in their entirety, often failing to do a cost-benefit analysis for the vaccines. For example, the smallpox vaccine carries a very real risk, as it is composed of a live virus (the cowpox virus). If one chooses to vaccinate a country with the smallpox vaccine, some people will get sick with cowpox. However, when the world began vaccinating against smallpox, an estimated two million deaths per year were due to smallpox, with many of the remaining cases becoming disfigured. This link summarizes the costs of vaccination (warning: graphic images of disease state). The world chose eradication, knowing some people would be adversely affected by the vaccine, over the millions more who would die terribly from smallpox. Furthermore, because of the vaccine, smallpox was eradicated in 1979; the vaccine would be irrelevant today if it weren't that some nations may attempt to weaponize the virus.
    • Penn and Teller explain this fallacy and its relevance to vaccines for laypersons here. NSFW due to strong language, as expected from Penn and Teller.
    • Opportunistic vendors of quack medicine use this fallacy all the time in the US. US law requires full disclosure of any and all side effects or known problems with any conventional, approved medical intervention. However, if a product makes no specific claims about treating a condition, symptom, or disease, then it is not bound to do so. As long as a product sticks to empty statements like, "Boosts your immune system!" and not specific, testable claims like, "Causes 95% of test subjects to develop Memory B cells capable of a rapid response on second exposure to Pathogen X!", the sellers of these products escape government oversight, regulation, and liability. These folks can point out the shortcomings of science-based medicine, but are under no obligation to provide scientific testing for their product and cannot be taken to task for failing to do so. Naturally, using this fallacy is in the marketing toolbox for these products.
  • Common in environmentalism regarding fossil fuel industries and incineration: creation of new facilities is opposed because despite being cleaner, safer and more efficient, they do not perfectly solve the problem of pollution. The fact that the net result is antiquated, dangerous and more heavily polluting facilities being retained long past their service life is ignored.
    • This also goes the other way, in claims that renewable energy are less reliable than fossil fuels and so should not be used, which ignores the effect of a large integrated power grid and energy storage methods evening out lack of power generation in any one specific spot.
  • The responses to a single case of HIV being reported in the American porn industry: dozens of activists screaming that the industry's voluntary testing system was worthless, because it had not prevented someone from contracting HIV in the first place. They ignored the fact that this system was what gave the porn industry an infection rate vastly, vastly lower than that of the general population. Though as in the above example, it also resulted in some members of the porn industry being shocked that the system was not 100% perfect.
  • Among people opposed to welfare, it's used thus: "In spite of welfare, there are still poor people, therefore welfare doesn't work."
    • Similarly, like any other system, there will be people trying to abuse it. Arguing that welfare is bad because of welfare fraud ignores the balance between making the system fraud-proof and making it accessible enough to people who genuinely need it. A specific example is the complaint that people on welfare will just use that money for drugs (because being poor is a moral failing, dontchaknow), and so all welfare recipients should be drug tested. In some cases where this was implemented, the cost of the drug testing program exceeded the amount of money that would have gone to drug users.
  • This is often used by those who oppose animal testing. They cite the fact that animal testing isn't 100% perfect as a reason to do away with it altogether, even though we're still much better off with it than we'd be without it. (For the concerned, the law requires that researchers use non-animal analogs whenever they're available. Animal testing is only used when there is no other option.)
  • This comes up all the time in politics, usually in the form of refusing to support certain candidates or laws because they don't completely solve our problems. For example the mindset that "This candidate doesn't agree with me on everything, so they might as well be a member of a rival party, and so I will withhold my vote" while ignoring that the candidate might agree with, say, 80% or 90% of that person's positions. It's a major cause of We ARE Struggling Together, as factions push for their perfect solutions.
  • And a Diet Coke is one Played for Laughs; while it won't make you lose a noticeable amount of weight, drinking diet soda does cut some empty calories and if you don't eat fast food too often, getting a diet drink, unsweetened tea, black coffee or water the times you do isn't actually a bad idea. That's not even getting into the fact that nobody really thinks a Diet Coke will help them lose weight if they don't eat other healthy food.
  • Used against the theory of evolution. Some claim that evolution cannot be correct, because it doesn't explain how life began. While technically right, no-one has claimed it does; finding out how life began is an entirely different scientific branch. It is also used with the fossil record, where when transitional fossils are demonstrated to exist, the creationist will demand the transitions between those transitions until a fossil is not found, which is then used as grounds to dismiss the entire fossil record. Sometimes followed by God of the Gaps argument, depending on what kind of person you're dealing with.
    • Also against the theory of the Big Bang, as it does not explain how the Universe began. Said theory describes the evolution of our Universe from a primordial state, very dense and hot, to its current one and not as has been said by an astronomer what banged, how banged, why it banged, and even if it banged at all —which for now are just speculations.
  • The internalization of this fallacy is common in people suffering from anxiety and depression: "whatever I do won't be perfect, therefore it's not worth doing at all". Therapy for both conditions often involves getting over the need to be perfect. In an inverse of the above, the line of thought can be "if it's worth doing, it's worth doing badly."
  • The fringe argument that biological sex is a social construct (not just gender) is based around arguing that since the biological description of a sexually dimophic species doesn't apply to the entire human population, it doesn't matter that it describes a good 99% of it.
  • A curious combination of this and Moving the Goalposts emerged during the COVID-19 Pandemic. When the pandemic first hit big in the U.S., the prevailing wisdom was to "flatten the curve" - i.e., slow the rate of infection by shutting down schools, businesses, and other places where people congregate so that hospitals would not be overwhelmed by a flood of patients. Several months in, however, the discussions on whether to reopen all those shuttered places, especially schools, tended to focus around whether it was "safe" to do so, mainly in the context of completely eliminating the risk of infection vs. accepting a manageable risk to mitigate other sorts of harm (economic, social, developmental, etc.) that were exacerbated by keeping them closed.
  • Some people actually argue, seemingly being serious, that since it's impossible to make a completely fair and equal society (due to some people just naturally being bigger, faster, smarter, or otherwise more adept), we shouldn't even bother trying to make society more equitable, even though this makes about as much sense as saying "we'll never be able to abolish murder completely, so we might as well not punish murderers at all."
  • Some people claim that because no act is entirely selfless (there's always some reward even if sacrifices are made), there's no point in being kind at all, and treating another well is just as bad as disregarding them if not worse. This ignores the benefit to the other person, and implies that just because their wellbeing isn't the only factor, it isn't a factor at all.