infallibility n : the quality of never making an error [ant: fallibility]
Infallibility, from Latin origin ('in', not + 'fallere', to deceive), is a term with a variety of meanings related to knowing truth with certainty.
In common speech
When a statement, teaching, or book is called 'infallible', this can mean any of the following:
- It is something that is certainly true
- It is something that can be safely relied on
- what the pope says is true
When a person is called 'infallible', this can mean any of the following:
- Some statements or teachings made by this person can be relied on to be certainly true
- All statements or teachings made by this person can be relied on to be certainly true
- All information believed by this person is true
- This person is free from flaws or defects, especially of a moral nature
These definitions differ widely. In common speech, 'infallibility' can refer to a person (or a group of persons), to an act of teaching by these persons, or to the information being taught.
Furthermore, infallibility can refer to the 'absence of error' or to the 'inability to err'. Although these are similar, they are philosophically distinct categories. For example, it is theoretically possible for a person to live their entire life without ever uttering a false sentence, even though they had the ability to err.
Infallibility is sometimes used to refer to someone's ability to 'learn' something with certainty. For example, a careful researcher might study a hundred books, each of which contains a few errors, and after carefully judging the statements in these books might deduce the complete, error-free truth. This is referred to as 'learning infallibly' or 'knowing infallibly'. However, this meaning is rarely used.
In psychology and sociology
Infallibility is inseparable from human nature as a result of the aspect of the human condition called self-awareness. It is one of the features that set us apart from animals, and as such, civilization cannot exist without it. In some cases, this may mean that a fact is to be accepted as true by all people; in others it may mean that an arbitrary decision must be made, and then not disputed.
Bank transactions are an example of this. If one cannot obtain certainty when counting out a withdrawal, then all transactions would become negotiated. "I think SIX twenties make a hundred. After all, you can't be certain it is only five, and the customer is always right."
Epistemology, a branch of philosophy, is concerned with the question of what, if anything, humans can know.
Some philosophical schools denying that people can know anything; others deny that people can know anything with certainty. For details, see existentialism and skepticism.
The German critical rationalist philosopher Hans Albert presented a logical argument that fallibilism is ubiquitous and inevitable, even in the fields of mathematics and logic. For details, see Münchhausen Trilemma.
Other philosophical schools agree that people can know things with certainty. See metaphysics, epistemology, reason and logic.
A standard work, "The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church", defines infallibility as 'Inability to err in teaching revealed truth'. Many Christians maintain that the Church is infallible, but disagree as to where infallibilty exists, whether in doctrines, scripture, or church authorities: see Infallibility of the Church, Papal infallibility, Biblical infallibility and Biblical inerrancy. Liberal Christians deny that infallibility exists.
Semantic notesIn Roman Catholic theology, only the actual 'act of teaching' is properly called "infallible". For example, according to Roman Catholic dogma, Pope Pius IX's teaching regarding the Immaculate Conception was infallible; it is grammatically incorrect to say "the pope is [sometimes] infallible" or to say "the Immaculate Conception is infallible". Nonetheless, these phrases are frequently used in conversations or Catholic writings.
According to the First Vatican Council (1870-71) and as reaffirmed at Vatican II (1963-1965) the Pope is infallible when speaking ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals.
Infallibility does not refer to the inability to sin (impeccability), or to the personal holiness of a person, although it is occasionally misunderstood in that sense.
Universal teachingsIn Islamic theology, the widely held belief is that the prophets of Allah were infallible in the sense that all statements or teachings made by them can be relied on to be certainly true and all information believed by them is also true. Islam also teaches that the Qur'an is an infallible text, one that is certainly true and is something that can be safely relied on.
Additional Shi'a teachings
In Shi'a theology, the belief is that the Ahl al-Bayt, including Muhammad, his daughter Fatima Zahra and Shi'a Imams are all infallible, but able to make mistakes. It is believed that they are infallible in the sense that all statements or teachings made by them can be relied on to be certainly true, that all information believed by themselves is true, and that they have complete knowledge about right and wrong and never intend to disobey God , in a sense, perfect creation. It is also held by Shi'as that there were 124,000 Prophets, beginning with Adam and ending with Muhammad - with all, including the latter, being infallible in the same sense as the Ahl al-Bayt.
infallibility in German: Unfehlbarkeit
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