Argumenta – Journal of Analytic Philosophy

The paper first gives an argument for the Davidsonian thesis that norms constitute the human mind. Then it shows that that thesis is better formulated by Wittgenstein rather than by Davidson himself. And finally, it uses the Wittgensteinian formulation of the thesis to establish why Davidson was right to further claim that linguistic meaning was not normative despite the human mind being normatively constituted. Through this entire dialectic of the paper, the concept of failure is made central to the argument.

Donald Davidson was a pioneer among philosophers in arguing that normativity was central to understanding human behaviour and that it was what set apart the understanding and explanation of human behaviour from how  we understand and explain all other phenomena. Though it is true that long before him, philosophers, in resisting the overreaching claims of positivism, had claimed that the social and human sciences were value-laden, those philosophers had not (or at least not explicitly) made value or norm constitutive of the human mind. Davidson made this last claim central to understanding human behaviour and saw in it the roots of what made the study of human behaviour and society distinctive.


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