Error: (On Our Predicament When Things Go Wrong )

Copyright Date: 2007
DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt6wrcdp
Pages: 120
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    InError,Nicholas Rescher presents a fresh analysis of the occurrence, causality, and consequences of error in human thought, action, and evaluation. Rescher maintains that error-avoidance and truth-achievement are distinct but equally important factors for rational inquiry, and that error is inherent in the human cognitive process (to err is human). He defines three main categories of error: cognitive (failure to realize truths); practical (failure related to the objective of an action); and axiological (failure in evaluation), and articulates the factors that contribute to each. His discussion also provides a historical perspective on the treatment of error in Greek philosophy, and by later thinkers such as Aquinas, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, James, Royce, Moore, and Russell.

    Erroris an important reexamination of the significance of error to the fields of philosophical anthropology, epistemology, ontology, and theology. As Rescher's study argues, truth and error are inexorably intertwined-one cannot exist without the other. Error is an unavoidable occurrence in the cognitive process-without missteps on the path to truth, truth itself cannot be attained. The risk of error is inherent in the quest for truth.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7115-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt6wrcdp.1
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt6wrcdp.2
    (pp. ix-xii)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt6wrcdp.3
  4. 1 The Ways of Error
    (pp. 1-21)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt6wrcdp.4

    One can in principle err about pretty well anything. The three prime spheres of human concern are belief, behavior, and evaluation, which correlate with matters of fact, action, and value. And one can manage to err in all three settings. There are three main categories of error:Cognitiveerror arises from failures in the attainment of correct beliefs;practicalerror arises from failures in relation to the objectives of action;axiologicalerror appertains to mistakes in regard to evaluation. Where there is cognitive error, one inclines to question the quality of the agent’s intellect; with practical error, the quality of...

  5. 2 The Dialectic of Ignorance and Error
    (pp. 22-34)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt6wrcdp.5

    One can err only where one has prior knowledge, maintains one recent author.¹ But this is very questionable. If the idea never even occurs to me that the paragraph I am reading contains a coded message, then I am in error in blithely seeing it as a normal text. But one would hardly say that I am committing an error by doing so. Errors of omission simply occur rather than get committed. We can certainlycommiterrors, but erroneous impressions and inclinations can also take us unawares, as errors of omission are apt to do.

    In deliberating about error it...

  6. 3 Scepticism and the Risk of Error
    (pp. 35-50)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt6wrcdp.6

    How pervasive can error be? This question sends us on a visit to the all-powerful deceiver of Descartes and the Martian mind-controllers of science fiction. And so the sceptic presses the question: “How do you (ever) know that you are not in error now?” The answer is, “It all depends!” It will depend on what is at issue in that supposedly error-prone belief of mine. If it happens to be, “People sometimes err,” then it just cannot possibly be in error. If it is the Cartesian, “I think; I exist,” its being in error is unthinkable. If it is, “There...

  7. 4 Error and Oversimplification
    (pp. 51-67)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt6wrcdp.7

    To save time, effort, or breath we often deliberately simplify matters, realizing full well that some aspect or feature of reality is being omitted from view. But this does not worry us because we have good and sufficient reason to believe that the overlooked item, whatever it is, simply does not matter for present purposes. However, this sort of thing is simplification and not oversimplification. When oversimplification occurs, then it transpires, more or less by definition, that we are going too far with simplification—that what is being lost sight of is something that does indeed matter, because simplification has...

  8. 5 Error and Morality
    (pp. 68-79)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt6wrcdp.8

    Moral error pivots on intention, and moral reprehensibility on malevolence. Moral error is not a particularly popular topic nowadays. But the fact remains that no discussion of error can be deemed adequate that leaves sin entirely out of the account. For in matters of practice, error consists in doing things wrong, and sin is, after all, one of the most notable sorts of wrongdoing there is.

    With legal and moral culpability alike, error is an important issue. For one thing, agents acting in good faith in light of a circumstantially plausible error for which they are nowise responsible are free...

  9. 6 Error and Metaphysics
    (pp. 80-86)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt6wrcdp.9

    The very idea of error involves subscribing to some sort of realism: Error calls for incorrectness, for conflict with the actual facts, and were there no actual matter of fact there would be no error either. For error to be possible, there must be something distinctively objective and real to be wrong about. In a realm without any reality, a realm of mere appearances where all is illusion and delusion, no such thing as error is possible. One can be wrong only where there is something definite to be wrong about. The very idea of error commits us to a...

  10. 7 Historical Background
    (pp. 87-95)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt6wrcdp.10

    As viewed by Zeno of Elea and various ancient Greek thinkers who followed in his wake, cognitive error is something of a puzzle. For if, as they believed, meaningful thought and talk must appertain to what is and cannot deal in what is not, then error, being at variance with what is, becomes inaccessible to intelligible discourse, since it relates to a nonexistent what-is-not.

    One promising way of addressing this puzzle was to say that while language at large deals with what indeed is, the specific instances of its application might become involved in a confusion in mistaking one perfectly...

  11. 8 Errorʹs Ramifications
    (pp. 96-98)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt6wrcdp.11

    Homo sapiensis a fallible creature of limited capacity, and error casts its shadow across the whole range of our affairs. In matters of agency we finite beings are limited not only in our ability to see how to make matters work out effectively for the realization of our ends but also in our ability to make appropriate judgments regarding the worth and value of those ends. And our moral nature is defective in motivation to act in the interests of the well being of the community at large. Moreover, error is the reverse side of the coin of knowledge....

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 99-106)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt6wrcdp.12
    (pp. 107-114)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt6wrcdp.13
    (pp. 115-116)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt6wrcdp.14