Descriptive and Normative • Discussion 1

Re: Logical Graphs • Discussion 3
Re: Laws of FormJohn Mingers

I hesitate to enter into this debate but I would want to draw different distinctions to normative/descriptive.

I would distinguish (following philosopher Roy Bhaskar) between the transitive and intransitive domains of science.

The transitive domain is the realm of our actual human activities as scientists — theories, papers, grants, methodologies, experiments, debates, disagreements, etc.  It is clearly value-full and normative.  It is part of the social world.

The intransitive domain is the realm of the objects of our knowledge, the physical/material world in the case of natural science, and the social and psychological worlds in the case of social science.  In the case of the physical world then these objects are indeed independent of us — the universe existed before humans and will no doubt exist after us.  So to that extent the intransitive domain of natural science is descriptive/positive although of course we can manipulate physical objects in order to meet our interests (or not meet as in climate change!).

However, in the case of the social world then social objects — meanings, practices, roles, structures, motives, etc. is always already value-full — they are intrinsically constituted in terms of good/bad or desirable/undesirable.

So, social science and natural science are broadly similar — they share a commitment to discovering true knowledge (which in itself makes them committed and not value-free), and they share a broadly similar abductive (to use a Peirce term) methodology, but social science has limitations and commitments which make it different in some ways from natural science.

Hi John,

Yeah, I never get a lot from debate styles of discussion.  I need to get back to logical graphs anyway but I pretty much said all I need for now about descriptive/normative.  I’m not one to make much hay out of classifying sciences, never been good at coloring inside the lines or sticking to one disciplinary silo.  All my favorite fields merged and mutated so many times so long ago it cured me of the class of classification mania so endemic among Peirceans.  At any rate, you can’t really disentangle the two styles of inquiries, since the moment you say you want a “good” description you have just introduced a normative concern.  Still, it’s useful as a rule of thumb to distinguish the two axes of value.  Which is why they call it “axiology”.



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