Descriptive and Normative

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Jon Awbrey

Aug 4, 2021, 7:00:13 AM8/4/21
to Cybernetic Communications, Ontolog Forum, Peirce List, Structural Modeling, SysSciWG
Cf: Descriptive and Normative • Discussion 1

Re: Logical Graphs • Discussion 3
Re: Laws of Form
::: John 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

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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