Monday, September 18, 2023

Foolish Consistency: Temporal or Spatial?

I have always been fond of the Emerson quote, "foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds". So, I was a little dismayed to discover that I had been misinterpreting his statement. He was referring to temporal consistency, while I assumed spatial.

Emerson thought that if I proclaim some belief or opinion today, and encounter some new information or insight tomorrow, it is small-minded of me to stubbornly hold onto my previous positions. Here is a longer excerpt that makes his point clear.

I've been using it in terms of keeping different things consistent with each other. For example, if there are two places in a document where a thing is being described, I might be foolish to expend effort to ensure the descriptions are letter-for-letter identical. Or maybe I design two API functions that share a parameter, and I ensure the formal parameter names are the same. In both cases, so long as each instance is clear, there may be no real benefit in making the instances consistent, so the effort is foolish. That is not what Emerson was talking about.

So now comes the big question: would it be foolish of me to modify my use of the "foolish consistency" quote to be consistent with the original intent? Or should I feel free to re-purpose it for my use case?

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