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Normative/Descriptive Distinction

The categories of normative and descriptive correspond to moral and factual statements, respectively. In the first case, normative assertions about ethical 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, David Hume’s characterization of the difference between ought and is prompted the question of whether normative statements can be derived from factual descriptions. George Edward Moore addressed this question by asserting that to define good in terms of natural objects or properties is to commit the naturalistic fallacy. Social scientists have long expressed uneasiness about collapsing ...

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