The Mystery / Problem of Error

Georges Canguilhem

We all make mistakes. The problem/ mystery of error is an important experience of being human. Experience of error is an essential part of who we are. We are fallible and fragile. There are other meanings of error than mistake. Life itself is lived through trial and error. It is through this lived error that we live as human and rise to what we deem as right life. Live, thus, becomes an adventure. It this possibility of failure that opens us to invention. It is only through the unorder of life that we find order. But no order is final. Order can seduce us. Hence, we need to awaken to the possibility of the unorder. Unorder is not disorder. It is not opposed to order. It is alongside order. It can push us to seek new order.

It is this living with error that push humans to seek God. The mystery of error led to the mystery of God. The mystery of error tells us that our world and us are evolving. We live in a perfectible conditions that we call our world. Thus, error marks us intimately. Without error, we cannot be humans. But we are not chained to error. We seek freedom from the chains of error and we do free ourselves. But we cannot fully redeem ourselves from error on this side of the grave. Error ridden-ness of our life makes us humble and truly human. It can check human imperialism over other humans as well as over creation.

There is a philosophy of error. We can trace it in the work of French thinker Georges Canguilhem. He thinks that life is not free from error and indicates that philosophy therefore, is medicine. Philosophy is , thus, quest for remedies for human sufferings. Canguilhem teaches us the we live first by stories, proverbs and mythologies. This means we judge the world and others before experience. We approach the world through hopes, prayers and beliefs grounded in our mythologies. We as linguistic beings cannot but approach the world outside the horizons of our mythologies. Mythologies are beliefs that we do not question. This is why we are marked by error. It is through a wakefully lived experience that we distance ourselves from error.

Canguilhem says that we cannot get out of error because our words fix the dynamism of the reality that we experience. The way we describe our experience through our language, therefore, is tied to error. We live seduced by our language. Thus, our relations to the world is a matter of our relation to our word, says Canguilhem. Our dependence on language becomes our condition that makes us susceptible to error. But when words become symbols and not idols that fix reality, we can rise out of error. Language, therefore, though chains us to error, it also frees us from the same. Thus, language also revivifies us. We can only free ourselves from error retrospectively. But this retrospective distantiation can open us to life lived through prospective distantiation from error to some extent. Thus, error is our original condition ( our being in Avidya or Original Sin) but with prospective distantiation we live wakefully ( living in the grace of Baptism) even though our possibility of being in error is not removed from us. We thus, live in the promise of freedom and thus, achieve our relative freedom from error.

Canguilhem sees our freedom from error in a linear progressive manner. It is almost a Darwinian fight with the tendencies of error. This perhaps is triumphalist position and sees freedom as rising higher to a locus that is free from error. Such a thinking appears to be based in a binary opposition between life and error which see life as pure from all stains of error. Life then becomes a war. It becomes polarized against error. This binarization also produces another important foundational binary: normal and the pathological. Life that is stained by error, therefore, becomes pathological. This binary thinks of error as a mistake that can be corrected. Hence, error as mistake is pathological. This binary does produces social Darwinist politics of identity with deep narcistic tendencies.

Thankfully, a matured thinker in Canguilhem moves away from the thinking of error as a mistake that can be corrected and embraces error as linked to the dynamism of trial and error that animates all life. Violent social Darwinism softens with the notion of trial and error. Thus, error is not a fiction or negation of truth . It is a means that leads us to the truth. We can only know through error. We can only know through avidya or analogy. Thus, there is a positive value to error. Without possibility of error, we will never find the truth. Error is constitutive of our consciousness. Error makes it possible for the growth in our consciousness.

Error is not a harmful habit. It is a way of being human in the world. To ban error is to quit the path to the truth. We cannot, therefore, think of error in a positivist manner but have to embrace its place in the way we live as hermeneutical beings. We can come to truth in the light of error. Error, therefore, is normal and not pathological . We have the challenge to discern how error is politicized , biologized, racialized , and used to marginalize minorities, women, tribals, genderized, sexualized , moralized individuals and employed to oppress weaker humans by the dominant in our society. It is the failure of error and our realization of the same that leads us to rise to truth and wisdom. We, therefore, have the imperative to embrace error and open ourselves to live as authentic humans seeking truth and wisdom.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao