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Every now and then, on a Friday, I'll step into the deep waters of Philosophy, ramble on about some idea and maybe even interact with something I might be reading. Most of the time, a real philosopher could probably read my drivel and speak into it offering a corrective—but for now I'll speak from ignorance. After all, it is Friday; what better way to have fun than with philosophy. In this post I'll answer the question "is erring human?"

The question might not make a lot of sense on its own but it's in relation to the statement "to err is human", meaning, that making mistakes is part of being human. After all, we are humans and we've noticed that, in our respective experiences, we've made mistakes.

But is it an ontological statement or merely an experiential statement. In other words—is it part of the human's nature to make mistakes or do humans make mistakes because of some other reason that has little to do with being human?

Well, if we remove the human from the equation and look at, say cats: do they make mistakes? What if a cat jumps from a bed to a desk and falls short by slamming into the side? Does the fact that the cat can't compute trajectories and wind currents result in the cat being free from error? Well, surely not: the cat made a mistake even without higher knowledge or a sense of ethics. It leapt at the desk, its leap wasn't enough, and it fell: Something was going on that allowed the cat to think it could reach across and yet simultaneously misjudge. After all, the cat wouldn't try the same thing with the Grand Canyon.

Seeing that cats do make "mistakes" then does the statement "to err is cattish" make any sense? It's not like every cat goes around making mistakes. Some cats, for example, die young without ever making a mistake. Likewise, some humans die at a point where they couldn't have made any mistakes—say at birth. If erring is something that ontologically belongs to humans (or cats) then these non-erring humans (or cats) are either really not part of their species or they have just not experienced making a mistake.

Now, let's look at the nature of "error". Folk like to place it in the category of the ramifications of finitude—but is it really? I mean, is it part of the nature of finite beings to make mistakes? I've shown that a member of a species can live only long enough to die and never have had made a mistake, but let's move that proof to the side and look at the product of finite beings. Is this prone-to-error category something that covers everything Finite Beings do, or is it limited to specific spheres?

Well, it can't be everything. After all, I, a finite being, can write an inerrant sentence: I, Rey Reynoso, typed this sentence. Surely that sentence is errant if I weren't Rey Reynoso or if I used a pen to write it, but if both segments of the sentence are true, it is inerrant. Is there a number of propositions, or truth statements, that a Finite Being is allowed to make before the rule of Erring comes into play? Is it more than one sentence? Well, that's disproven by having a second inerrant sentence. I, Rey Reynoso, have a son.

Indeed, I can write paragraphs upon paragraphs of inerrant propositions with this rule not coming into play.

So maybe this errancy of finite beings in specific spheres of knowledge; but what would those categories even be? It's almost as if the statement wants to render certain subjects outside of the availability of finite thinking creatures by fiat: we can't know about God because erring is human; we can't know if life exists on other planets because erring is human; we can't believe that the Bible is inerrant because it is the product of erring humans.

So is erring human? Ironically, if the statement were true, it winds up collapsing under its own weight. We wind up having to conclude that error is not ontologically human; it's just that a lot of, not all, humans experience it.

Views: 31

Tags: error, philosophy, to err is human

Comment by Daniel on October 1, 2010 at 1:16pm
What's with all the "&#8212"? And I'm confused. How is it possible that not all humans experience error? Wouldn't the very conclusion that only non-error exists *be* an error?

Daniel

Comment by Rey Reynoso on October 1, 2010 at 1:28pm
They normally turn into emdashes. Don't know why that's not goiing on here.

There's tons of situations where humans don't have to experience error. I gave two examples in the blog post: (1) dying before experiencing an error (2) propositional statements of self disclosure. There's many others. But I don't have to offer others since one would have sufficed.

And I never concluded that only non-error exists. I honestly am not even sure where you see that.
Comment by Scott on October 1, 2010 at 1:41pm
Rey -

There are 2 angles I would like to hear from you on.

1) I completely agree that humans (as well as cats) don't have to err. Even finite, sinful humans don't have to. But, in accordance with some of my recent ramblings, for that is what they are, aren't they? Would you be willing to distinguish between the two terms truth and fact? Could something be true, but not necessarily fact? If you answer no, why can't something be true but not actual, empirical fact?

2) Now, from my continuationist perspective: We both believe that humans (and cats) do not have to err. So, could someone today, 2000 years after the final touches to our canon were completed, could speak an inerrant statement revealing the things of God? How would you classify that? As prophecy, as pure and true biblical teaching, as something else?
Comment by Rey Reynoso on October 1, 2010 at 1:57pm
Up front, a disclaimer: both questions have nothing to do with the ontology of humans. So if this is used to sneak in some strange ideas about the nature of humans, this will serve as an up front disclaimer.

1) The two terms are already distinguished. A Fact is something that has the property of being Actual. So a piece of information (talking about the information, not a proposition regarding the information) is A Fact when it accords with objective, actual, reality. So for example, computers were once not A Fact but, after their invention, they became Facts. But Truth Statements (or True Statements) are only True or Truthful when they accord with actual, objective (not necessarily empirical, I don't know why that is even there) Facts. So if a person three thousand years ago spoke about the future invention of the computer they would speaking Truth according to Future Facts. If they said the computer existed they would not be making a Truth Statement because what they were speaking about was not then yet a Fact.

But apparently you're making a distinction that I'm not getting between truth and fact by your use of "empirical". Maybe if you embroider on that, I'd understand what you're asking.

2) In all circles, this is one of those things that fall safely under Complex Question. Not that it's a difficult question, but it is a stacked question that assumes a lot of things. Sorta' like "At what point did you stop beating your wife?"

If I were to strip away things and ask "Could someone today speak an inerrant statement about God?" then answer would be obviously yes. But that doesn't tell you how they acquired that inerrant statement. If they say "Behold the Lord God is One" they spoke inerrantly but based on an acquisition of data made available by God some 4,000 years ago. I would just classify that has propositional knowledge made available by God and recorded in Scripture.

But you seem to want to say something more by adding the completion of the Canon? Especially when I see the conflation of "prophecy" and "pure and true Biblical teaching".
Comment by Scott on October 1, 2010 at 2:05pm
Rey -

Up front, a disclaimer: both questions have nothing to do with the ontology of humans. So if this is used to sneak in some strange ideas about the nature of humans, this will serve as an up front disclaimer.

I am not trying to sneak in any peculiar anthropology here. I just thought your mind might have been on this topic because of our recent understandings of one another's hearts. ;)
Comment by Scott on October 1, 2010 at 2:13pm
But apparently you're making a distinction that I'm not getting between truth and fact by your use of "empirical". Maybe if you embroider on that, I'd understand what you're asking.

Could someone, say, tell a story that was true and taught actual truth, but that story never actually happened in real history time?

If I were to strip away things and ask "Could someone today speak an inerrant statement about God?" then answer would be obviously yes. But that doesn't tell you how they acquired that inerrant statement. If they say "Behold the Lord God is One" they spoke inerrantly but based on an acquisition of data made available by God some 4,000 years ago. I would just classify that has propositional knowledge made available by God and recorded in Scripture.

What if someone who does not know another person senses God say, 'Go pray for that person. He has glaucoma.' So, the person goes to the other and says, 'Excuse me, but I believe God has shown me you have glaucoma. Is that correct?' Tears begin to form in the eyes of the person. And the person whom God spoke to says, 'Can I just pray for you right now and for God's healing to come for your eyes?'

Is that an inerrant revelation from God?
Comment by Rey Reynoso on October 1, 2010 at 2:15pm
I am not trying to sneak in any peculiar anthropology here. I just thought your mind might have been on this topic because of our recent understandings of one another's hearts. ;)
lol. I just wanted to put the disclaimer because i know how these threads can go.

And although you've been playing with that peculiar anthropology my thinking on making this post was more tied to a statements I had made (here, in passing here and there are others but I can't find them) some time ago.
Comment by Rey Reynoso on October 1, 2010 at 2:25pm
Could someone, say, tell a story that was true and taught actual truth, but that story never actually happened in real history time?

There's a conflation of terms here.

Something "True" accords with Facts. A "True Story" is a story that accords with a factual story. So when we see that somethings is "based on a True Story" it is telling us that there is an actual Story that accords with Real Facts, but This Story is built over that. So there will be additions or editions that depart from the True Story.

Something that conveys Truth doesn't have to accord with current facts. I can convey truth that in five minutes I am going to the bathroom but that in no way accords with current facts. I can also convey "truth" when it accords with ethical facts without telling a True Story: like a fairy tale. But the story is only true insofar as it exists as a secondary world--true only in its internal architecture.

So when you add that it consists of not occurring in real history or time then one of the categories is collapsing. A story can be based on a True Story but it is in itself not true. A Story can teach Truth but in itself not be True. But a Story can not be both True and UnTrue at the same time: that's just uttering an incoherence.

For instance, the destruction of the ring of Sauron is True within the secondary world of Middle Earth. It is by no means True in accordance with actual Fact. But it also teaches Truth. So it would be strange to conflate the secondary world "True" to mean "True in Fact" while simultaneously saying "These facts are not-True.".

The only way you can get there is if it is acknowledged that you're dealing with a secondary sub-world that, in fact, does not exist beyond a thought-model.
Comment by Rey Reynoso on October 1, 2010 at 2:37pm
What if someone who does not know another person senses God say, 'Go pray for that person. He has glaucoma.' So, the person goes to the other and says, 'Excuse me, but I believe God has shown me you have glaucoma. Is that correct?' Tears begin to form in the eyes of the person. And the person whom God spoke to says, 'Can I just pray for you right now and for God's healing to come for your eyes?' Is that an inerrant revelation from God?

Once again, this is a complex question that assumes things. Just because someone senses that a message is from God doesn't necessarily make it from God. It can be a message from the Devil. It might be aliens. It could even be that you picked up some clues without knowing it. And yet in your example, suddenly it is "the person to whom God spoke to". That's problematic since it conflates private revelation with some other form of revelation.

Here's a simple syllogism:
God can not tell [untrue Propositions].
If God speaks, then he will no untrue Propositions.
God spoke.
Therefore what he said contains no untrue Propositions.

That says nothing about the continuation of gifts, nothing about the appropriation of that information, nothing about the conveyance of that information, and nothing about confirming your thought model. In reality, you may not know it was God speaking. That being the case, you can't effectively apply the syllogism. It is "private revelation" and thus suffers under that sphere.
Comment by Scott on October 1, 2010 at 2:42pm
It is "private revelation" and thus suffers under that sphere.

Dang people in the Scripture who received revelation and it wasn't in an audible voice. What did they ever do? And, hey, that audible voice, when it did happen, could have been aliens.

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