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Hominis est Errare — A Reply to ‘In Defence of Infallibility’

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 October 2008

Patrick McGrath
Affiliation:
Lecturer in Philosophy, University College, Cork

Extract

The title of A. P. Martinich's article is a misnomer. What he is defending is not the doctrine of infallibility as defined by the First Vatican Council and as understood by Roman Catholic theologians, but his own highly personal and, to my mind, entirely mistaken interpretation of the doctrine. This interpretation derives from the fact that some purportedly infallible utterances contain the expression ‘we declare that…’. This leads Martinich to believe that such utterances are declarations rather than statements and since declarations, as he appears to understand the term, create facts rather than express them, he concludes that it is logically impossible for an ‘infallible utterance’ to be false. The papal claim to infallibility is thus no longer open to question since ‘the fact-making quality of infallible utterances guarantees their correctness’.

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Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1982

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References

page 87 note 1 Martinich, A. P., ‘Infallibility’, Religious Studies, XVI (1980), 22.Google Scholar

page 88 note 1 John Austin is cited by Martinich as an exponent of this philosophical sense, but this is a misconception. Austin had a marked antipathy for philosophical jargon and in the passage referred to by Martinich he is clearly concerned with the way in which the term ‘statement’ is understood in ordinary speech. Moreover, the same passage indicates that Austin believed that a statement was merely infelicitous if its utterer did not have evidence to support it; not, as Martinich asserts, that in such circumstances it was not a genuine statement.

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