Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Erro ergo sum
In these surrealistic times it's hard to know what's real, oneself included. In moments of uncertainty I usually rely on the Pinch Test. The problem, though, is that the outcome may vary depending upon the part pinched.
Happily, just before the New Year a friend sent me a selection from St. Augustine that seems to settle the matter. I call it "Erro ergo sum" or in the vernacular, "I am mistaken therefore I am."
The certainty that I exist, that I know this and that I am glad of it is known independently of any imaginary fantasy or contradiction. With regard to these truths I’m not afraid of any arguments put forward by the academics. If they say, “What if you are mistaken?” I reply, “Even if I am mistaken I still exist.” A non-existent being cannot be mistaken. Therefore I must exist if I am mistaken. Since my being mistaken proves that I exist how could I be mistaken when I think that I exist if my mistake confirms my existence? Therefore I must exist in order to be mistaken. Then even if I am mistaken there is no denying that I am not mistaken in my knowledge that I exist. Therefore I am also not mistaken in knowing that I know. For in the same way that I know I exist I also know that I know. And when I am glad about these two facts I can add with equal certainty the fact of that gladness to the things that I know. For I am not mistaken about the fact of my gladness because I am not mistaken about the things which I love even if these things are illusory it would still be a fact that I love the illusions.
— The City of God, Book 11 Chapter 26
I hope that helps.