Normative and Positive Analysis

An important distinction that is useful in our discussions is that between the positive and the normative. When you attempt to understand the way something is, that’s positive analysis; when you state how something ought to be, that’s normative analysis.

Normative statements generally have the word “should” or its equivalent. We should maintain good health. That’s a normative statement. Good health requires good nutrition. That’s a positive statement. That may or may not be true. Here the word positive is not a value judgement; it does not mean good.

When we try to understand how the world is or how the world works, we are doing positive analysis. When we say that the world ought to be this or that way, that’s a normative claim.

Usually a normative claim rests on some positive analysis.

For example, the demonstration of the link between certain kind of food (green leafy vegetables, say) and health is positive analysis. Based on that positive bit, you could support the normative “Eat spinach to be healthy” statement.

In this course, we are mainly in the positive domain — what is the world like and how did it get to be what it is. We may stray into the normative — how should the world be and what should we do to make it so — once in a while but the main aim is to get an introduction to how the world is rather than how the world ought to be.

Learning how the world used to be and comparing it to what the world is like today is positive analysis. How the world should be is normative. The question “Will doing x get result y?” is positive; the question “Should we do x?” is a normative question.

All analysis depends on the use of logic and arithmetic. We are fairly good at learning logic but logic has to be learned. We make systematic logical errors. It’s natural to make logical errors. Just like if you don’t learn how to do arithmetic, you’d make arithmetic errors.

Certain things are instinctive to us humans. We instinctively learn how to speak and comprehend natural languages (our mother tongue for a start) without needing to be taught. But reading and writing have to be learned since they are not instinctive.

Logic is essential. Unfortunately we are not very good at it. Try this simple logic question. Here’s the argument:

        1. Roses are flowers.
        2. Some flowers fade rapidly.
        3. Therefore, some roses fade rapidly.

Is that a valid logical argument? I will continue in a bit to give you an opportunity to answer that in the comments below.


Author: Atanu Dey


3 thoughts on “Normative and Positive Analysis”

    1. Piccolo:

      It’s not a matter of what should be. What we have is an argument with two premises and one conclusion “Therefore, some roses fade rapidly.” That’s what we are given. The question was whether the conclusion logically follows from the premises. It does not. Why not? Sure, some flowers fade rapidly, but not all flowers. It could be that roses are NOT that kind of flowers that fade rapidly. So the argument is invalid.

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