Rationality Recap: Chesterton’s Fence

When considering making changes or reforms, Chesterton’s fence is another useful concept to keep in mind. G. K. Chesterton wrote that we should understand things before we change them:

There exists […] let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

I don’t think this approach is always necessary, but I think it’s definitely a useful exercise to be mindful of. Just because we fail to understand the purpose of something doesn’t mean that it has no purpose.

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