Sunday Meditations & Devotions

Today’s meditation comes from the pen of none other than the Archbishop of Hippo Saint Augustine (354 – 430 AD).

…I have no fear of the arguments of the Academics. They say, “Suppose you are mistaken?” I reply, “If I am mistaken, I exist.” A non-existent being cannot be mistaken; therefore I must exist, if I am mistaken.   Then since my being mistaken proves that I exist, how can I be mistaken in thinking that I exist, seeing      that my mistake establishes my existence? Since therefore I must exist in order to be mistaken, then even            if I am mistaken, there can be no doubt that I am not mistaken in my knowledge that I exist. It follows that     I am not mistaken in knowing that I know. For just as I know that I exist, I also know that I know. And        when I am glad of those two facts, I can add the fact of that gladness to the things I know, as a fact of     equal worth. For I am not mistaken about the fact of my gladness, since I am not mistaken about the       things which I love. Even if there were illusory, it would still be a fact that I love the illusions. (CG 11.27)

“Suppose you are mistaken?” is what we have called the “Skeptical Thesis” (ST) in other posts. For those with a skeptical outlook the ST represents the universal trump card. The reason is we have all experienced instances where we have been mistaken about certain beliefs. The problem with ST is because I have been wrong about some things ST assumes that I can be wrong of all things. It follows the argument:


 I am sometimes wrong

Therefore I am always wrong

Or to put it another way:


X is sometimes Y

Therefore X is always Y

We can model this argument:


The Seahawks sometimes win the Super Bowl

Therefore the Seahawks always win the Super Bowl

The problem with the ST is it wants to doubt whether we can have knowledge at all. What Augustine is demonstrating is because I have been wrong about some things doesn’t mean I’m always wrong about all things. Moreover, for Augustine it is important for him to be able to say with certainty that he exists, that he knows he exists, and that he is glad of it.  To know is important to Augustine because at the end of the day Augustine’s ultimate desire is to know God and the soul (SO 2.7). This is important for Augustine as he refers to the Septuagint translation of Isaiah “Unless you believe, you shall not understand.”  



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