Thursday, December 2, 2010

Approaches to Political Theory - Normative and Empirical

APPROACHES TO POLITICAL THEORY – NORMATIVE AND EMPIRICAL

The two approaches- normative and empirical belong to different times, differing in their nature and in their methodologies while addressing the political phenomenon.
  1. Broadly speaking, the empirical approach seeks to discover and describe facts whereas the normative approach seeks to determine and prescribe values.
  2. The empirical approach aims at making an empirical statement which is concerned with ‘is’ whereas the normative approach aims at making a normative statement which is concerned with what ‘ought to be’ or ‘ should be’.
  3. The crucial point is that empirical statement is concerned with a situation which can be observed by our sense-experience, which can be verified by repeated observation and whose accuracy can be tested. On the other hand, a normative statement tends to express preference for a particular type of order as dictated by a sense of duty or universal need or by commitment to moral principle or ideal. Normative statements are not capable of being discovered, described or verified by our sense-experience.
  4. A normative statement requires something to be done in order to serve an intrinsic value-which is an end-in-itself (eg. the truth, the good, the beautiful). On the other hand, an empirical statement requiring something to be done is intended to serve an instrumental value – which is a means to some higher end (eg. ‘Do regular exercise to improve your health’). In short, it is the content of a statement, not its form, which makes it empirical or normative.
  5. The empirical approach remains largely descriptive while the normative approach is mainly prescriptive. Empirical approach seeks to discover laws that are unalterable (eg. Law of gravitational force). Hence, they are beyond man’s control; one can discover and describe them. Normative approach is concerned with laws and conditions largely created or adopted by human society, which are alterable (eg. Laws governing property and public order). One can examine how far they are morally right or wrong and then prescribe the right course.

The champions of empirical approach have been very vocal in criticising the normative approach on the ground that there is no ‘scientifically valid’ or reliable method of determining what is morally right or wrong. The supporters of normative approach do not condemn the empirical approach as such, but they criticise its indifference towards values, particularly its ignorance of discrimination between higher and lower values.

The Issue
Empirical Approach
Normative Approach
Chief Concern
FACTS
(It is so)
VALUES
(It “should be” or “ought be”
Nature
Scientific & Descriptive
(Instrumental Values)
Critical & Perspective
(Intrinsic Values)
Based on
Sense, experience & logic
Speculation & logic

Criterion of Validity

True or False

Right or Wrong



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