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In philosophy, normative is usually contrasted with descriptive or explanatory when describing types of theories, beliefs, or statements. Descriptive (or constative) statements are falsifiable statements that attempt to describe reality. Normative statements, on the other hand, affirm how things should or ought to be, how to value them, which things are good or bad, which actions are right or wrong.

It is only with David Hume in the 18th century that philosophers began to take cognizance of the logical difference between normative and descriptive statements and thinking. There are several schools of thought regarding the status of normative statements and whether they are rational and can be rationally discussed or defended, for example the tradition of practical reason going from Aristotle through Kant to Habermas, which asserts that they can, or that of logical positivism, which maintained that they were merely the expression of emotions and had no rational content.

Normative statements and norms, as well as their meanings, are an integral part of our lives, acquired through our native language learning process and other experience, in terms of prioritizing our goals, and organizing and planning thought, belief, emotion and action and are the basis of much of ethical and political discourse.


In standards terminology, "normative" means "considered to be a prescriptive part of the standard". For example, many standards have an introduction, preface, or summary that are considered non-normative, as well as a main body that is considered normative. "Compliant" is defined as "complies with the normative sections of the standard"; an object that complies with the normative sections but not the non-normative sections of a standard is still considered to be in compliance.

Social sciences

In social sciences the term "normative" is used to describe the effects of those structures of culture which regulate the function of social activity. While there are always anomalies in social activity (typically described as "crime") the normative effects of popularly-endorsed beliefs (such as "family values" or "common sense") push most social activity towards a generally homogenous set, resulting in varying degrees of social stability.

Normative behavior is a term used in sociology to describe actions intended to normalize something, or make it acceptable.

See also

Further reading

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