Friday, December 20, 2013

Deep Thoughts XXXV

Meeting the minimum requirements is always good enough.

[This is a variant on XXXIV. There are times when we say things like "The minimum is not good enough." When we do that, what I think happens is that we have a context shift. "The minimum" is understood relative to one set of ends or norms while the "good enough" is understood relative to another. One kind of a case is where you're competing for a job. Meeting the minimum required qualifications is good enough for being hirable in principle (if it's not, the minimum requirements were incorrectly stated), but is not good enough for beating the competition. Another kind of case is where someone is being evaluated in a number of areas (or with respect to a multiplicity of assignments). In each area, there is a minimum requirement. Meeting that requirement is good enough for not failing according to that requirement. But there may be a second, meta requirement to exceed the minimum in most of the areas. (There cannot coherently be a requirement to exceed the minimum in all areas. For if there were such, then the "minimum" in each area would not be a minimum requirement but a maximum disqualifier.) In any case, when we keep the context constant (and as a rule in natural language context in short sentences stays constant), "The minimum is not good enough" is a self-contradiction.]

4 comments:

Mark Murphy said...

The classic example, from Mike Judge's Office Space:

Stan, Chotchkie's Manager: We need to talk about your flair.

Joanna: Really? I... I have fifteen pieces on. I, also...

Stan, Chotchkie's Manager: Well, okay. Fifteen is the minimum, okay?

Joanna: Okay.

Stan, Chotchkie's Manager: Now, you know it's up to you whether or not you want to just do the bare minimum. Or... well, like Brian, for example, has thirty seven pieces of flair, okay. And a terrific smile.

Joanna: Okay. So you... you want me to wear more?

Stan, Chotchkie's Manager: Look. Joanna.

Joanna: Yeah.

Stan, Chotchkie's Manager: People can get a cheeseburger anywhere, okay? They come to Chotchkie's for the atmosphere and the attitude. Okay? That's what the flair's about. It's about fun.

Joanna: Yeah. Okay. So more then, yeah?

Stan, Chotchkie's Manager: Look, we want you to express yourself, okay? Now if you feel that the bare minimum is enough, then okay. But some people choose to wear more and we encourage that, okay? You do want to express yourself, don't you?

Joanna: Yeah, yeah.

Stan, Chotchkie's Manager: Okay. Great. Great. That's all I ask.

Mark Murphy said...

Continued, late in the movie:

Joanna: You know what, Stan, if you want me to wear 37 pieces of flair, like your pretty boy over there, Brian, why don't you just make the minimum 37 pieces of flair?

Alexander R Pruss said...

I remember watching that!

I am vaguely reminded of a similar issue when you assign a grade of, say, 89.8% to a student, and an A starts at, say, 90.0%, and the student complains that they should get an A since they're within 0.2%. But of course if one were to go for that, then one would be making one's A cutoff be 89.8%, and then the student with 89.6% could then complain that they're within 0.2%. Better just to have a strict and precise cutoff, just as minima should be minima.

ccmnxc said...

Not to resurrect kinda old posts, but just a thought:

I think the statement "Meeting the minimum requirements is always good enough," is usually true, though if one splits enough hairs, can also be false.

If the standard remains consistent throughout (the standard for "minimum" and the standard for "good enough" are the same), then I would say the statement is true. If it does not, it may be false. For example: Meeting the minimum score to pass a test, is good enough to pass a test. This seems true by definition. However, one can use a different standard throughout, though can still technically employ the same phrase. As another example: Meeting the minimum score to pass a test is not good enough to get an A on the test.

I think when people refer to the notion of the minimum not being good enough, the use a consistent standard. In common language, however, people often employ different standards (like that in the latter example) while using the same minimum/good-enough structure.

Hopefully that wasn't to abstract and vacuous, but enough of my hair-splitting ramblings...