Difference Between Normative and Empirical

Normative vs Empirical

In social sciences, there are two words normative and empirical that hold great significance. Normative and empirical knowledge are totally different things as will be clear to the readers after reading this article. Normative statements are judgmental whereas empirical statements are purely informative and full of facts.

Normative statements are ‘ought’ statements whereas empirical statements are ‘is’ statements. This one statement is enough to clarify both terms. To elaborate, normative statements pose questions, they desire, and explicitly say how things should be. On the other hand, empirical statements try to be neutral and state the facts as they are without passing any judgment or making any analysis that may be biased because of personal leanings of the individual.

In economics, both normative and empirical theories are in vogue. This is why merely stating the facts about an economy is sometimes not sufficient neither it is desirable. People have a right to know how their elected representatives are working to better their lot and what the results of policies that are being implemented are. This led to the development of judgmental, critical, and analytical statements coming from economists that helped people understand the actual performance of a government and also the impact of the policies being undertaken.

Empirical statements are objective, laced with facts, and informative in nature. On the other hand, normative statements are value based, subjective and ones that cannot be proved. For example, look at these two statements.

Our country has the highest standards of living in the world.

Our country is the best country in the world.

The first statement, based upon facts is an empirical one whereas the second statement claiming the country to be the best in the world is a subjective statement that is not provable.

In brief:

Normative and Empirical

- Any empirical science is free from subjectivity and presents facts and information that can be proved whereas normative statements are subjective, judgmental and not provable.

  • tdwilliamson

    As a philosopher, I disagree with the conclusions presented here. It is true that normative statements focus on “ought” while empirical claims focus on “is.” That does not mean, however, that normative claims are subjective. Actually, the opposite is true.

    Empirical claims are based upon what is, as can be determined by observation. The sciences are a good example; you construct an experiment, go into a laboratory, and observe the results. This is based on the scientific method, which is largely supported by inductive reasoning.

    Normative reasoning, on the other hand, is primarily focused on deductive logic, and what it primarily deals with is definitions, not observations. An example of normative thinking is found in mathematics. What is 4,513,829 + 3,877,210? Have you ever seen that many objects collected, where you could verify the result? I doubt it. But because of the definitions and principles involved, you can determine the result.

    So normative claims are not “subjective, judgmental and not provable.” Instead, empirical claims tend to be more subjective, while normative claims are more objective. Further, the inductive arguments behind empirical claims tend to offer support (not proof), while the deductive arguments behind normative claims offer proof.