Precision for its own sake

[B]oth precision and certainty are false ideals. They are impossible to attain, and therefore dangerously misleading if they are uncritically accepted as guides. The quest for precision is analogous to the quest for certainty, and both should be abandoned.

I do not suggest, of course, that an increase in the precision of, say, a prediction, or even a formulation, may not some­times be highly desirable. What I do suggest is that it is always undesirable to make an effort to increase precision for its own sake—especially linguistic precision—since this usually leads lo loss of clarity, and to a waste of time and effort on preliminaries which often turn out to be useless, because they are bypassed by the real advance of the subject: one should never try to be more precise than the problem situation demands.

I might perhaps state my position as follows. Every increase in clarity is of intellectual value in itself; an increase in pre­cision or exactness has only a pragmatic value as a means to some definite end—where the end is usually an increase in testability or criticizability demanded by the problem situation (which for example may demand that we distinguish between two competing theories which lead to predictions that can be distinguished only if we increase the precision of our measurements). [24-5]

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