On Experience, Perfectionism and Choice

July 16th, 2009  |  Published in Philosophy  |  1 Comment

On Experience, Perfectionism and Choice

Odo Marquard (In Defense of the Accidental)

There has never been a time when there were as many new experiences, as much new learning, as there is today. But we do not have these experiences ourselves; other people have them for us. Thus we increasingly have to accept experiences that have been administered through hearsay, by a large extend through sensational media.

We end up having faith in experiences that one has not had, oneself – a situation that in the past was that just of children, but in today’s modern world, has become the normal situation for grown-ups.

Schooling has become a substitute for experience.

The perception of reality and fiction increasingly take on a semi-fictive character. That is why it is so easy, nowadays, to ignore really terrible things and to be convinced by imagined positive things, and almost easier, to believe in imagined terrible things and to be blind to really positive ones- in other words, to accept what suits one and to suppress what does not.

It has also become less possible to gauge one’s expectations of what is to come by one’s experience up to the present. So, expectations, no longer controlled by experience, become boundless and illusionary. People become anticipators without experience. They become dreamers.

And such excessive expectations can easily lead to disappointments. It is the increasing discontinuity between what we come from and what is to come that robs experience of its power and gives power to illusion.

We human beings are always more our accidents than our choices or our accomplishments.

So we have to be able to bear what is accidental, because living with what is accidental is not a result of failing to reach the absolute, but is our historically normal condition.

It is more through our accidents than through our choice (that is, our plans) that we go through life and become ourselves. And that is not a misfortune – because accident is not a failure of absoluteness, but our historically normal state.

Part of man’s dignity is his ability to bear the accidental, and part of his freedom is his acknowledgement of the accidental. Respect for human dignity is, above all, compassion; and respect for human freedom is, above all, tolerance.


We have to desist from the nonsense of perfectionisms. Perfectionistic demands have the effect of spoiling what exists. The demand that we should accept only what is perfect leads to discouragement and to feelings of meaningless: to the denial of the good in what is imperfect.

Someone who accepts only the perfect and who wants nothing to do with the best that is possible will never be content. The effect of such perfectionisms is to spoil the meaning of what exists and is attainable, and thus, essentially, will raise potential distress to a higher power.

We have to keep our ability to perceive the goodness even of what is imperfect and avoid being disappointed and switching from positive illusions to negative one.



  1. Tina Lafey says:

    October 12th, 2010at 6:24 pm(#)

    Love it. Brilliant.

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