Akeel Bilgrami

Social Research, Fall 2016


Failure, the very idea, presupposes a norm by the lights of which it gets counted as such. And so failure, I argue, is essential to understanding the nature of norms. But I begin with a qualifying restriction. There is frequent talk of failure that presupposes something less (or other) than a norm, as when we speak of “heart failure” or “engine failure.” What is presupposed in these latter expressions cannot—strictly—be a norm because these are breakdowns or cessations of a mechanism, whether natural or artificial. In this brief essay, I look only at failure strictly so called, where the lights by which it is seen to be a failure are a “norm” in the full and irreducible sense of the term—not a norm that reduces, in the end, to a descriptive tendency of nature or artifice while presenting itself on the surface as a prescriptive and evaluative standard.

Read the full article here: Failures of Mind and Meaning