Philosophy Fridays: Is Erring Human?

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.

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14 replies on “Philosophy Fridays: Is Erring Human?”

Good question.

First, you seem to be saying that if “to err is human,” then everything done by humans must be erroneous, that is, a being prone to error can never be right. That simply does not follow. You need not be inerrant to type a true sentence. And you need not make an error to be errant. To be errant is simply to have the potential for error. A stillborn child is an errant child, even though he never got to prove it. Furthermore, a sentence is not errant or inerrant, it is true or false. It cannot make an error; it can only be an error. The writer is errant or inerrant.

But to get to your point, no, errancy is not a necessary condition for humanity (Jesus was fully man, yet inerrant). It is, however, the universal condition of fallen humanity. So technically, you are right: to err is not human.

It seems as if your conflating “error” with “brokeness” which is part of the problem that this argument is dismantling.

The argument often comes up that since humans are broken, the Scriptures are errant.

But Evangelicals have historically not argued in such a way. We firmly place the property of inerrancy on the text–not the writer.

Maybe I am conflating “error” with “brokenness.” If I am, it’s because I see error as a part of the broken human condition. It is therefore true that “since humans are broken, the Scriptures are errant.” [HERESY ALERT!]

The text of Scripture is without error because the author is incapable of error. But that’s just the original text. We admit, by the necessary practice of textual criticism, that our copies of the text are not inerrant. Fallible scribes copied them, and so they contain variations — some of which must be errors — from which textual critics must choose. We also admit, by our correction of translations, that our published Bibles are not inerrant. The errors in our manuscripts and translations are due to the human element in their production. So evangelicals ought not to be arguing for inerrancy of published Bibles, and they ought to argue the inerrancy of the original autographs based on the inerrancy/infallibility of the author because they have no other grounds on which to do so.

Athanasius has some interesting things to say. It’s not so much that humans are, in their nature, broken-flawed-besmirched; rather humanity has, as a whole, become (in a sense) less than human. When we see Christ, we don’t see God only in the likeness of the subhumans; he is actually a True Human. Pretty interesting stuff.

I do not think the statement is true because we are merely meaning that we are limited by a accidental property like sin.
Jesus is fully humanmeaning He is not limited by an accidental property. If an essential property to being human is sin than Jesus either sinned or was not human Sin is not a essential property = no salvation in Christ

Erring is surely of the flesh which we are not to walk in. We are to walk in the spirit, denying the flesh with it’s sin which is impossible for the natural man without the power of the Holy Spirit to become the son of God.

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