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Normative/Descriptive Distinction

The categories of “the normative” and “the descriptive” correspond to moral and factual statements, respectively. In the first case, normative assertions about values and “what should be” are traditionally investigated as the subject matter of moral philosophy. In the second case, propositions about facts or “what is” are typically examined in the descriptive realm of the natural and social sciences.

The methodological issues raised by the distinction are long standing. Notably, Hume's characterization of the difference between ought and is prompted the question of whether normative statements can be derived from factual descriptions. Moore addressed this question by asserting that defining good in terms of natural objects commits the naturalistic fallacy. On the other hand, social scientists have long expressed uneasiness about collapsing normative and descriptive ...

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