Normative vs. Empirical

Difference Between Normative and Empirical

Normative and Empirical are the word mostly used in social sciences. They are of much importance in social sciences. Empirical and normative are the types of knowledge which are different in nature. Empirical statements gives information and detail facts. On the other hand normative statements are judgments.

General formula is that in empirical statements the word ‘is’ used while in normative statements the word ‘ought’ or ‘should’ are used. It makes all the difference between the two. Normative statements ask questions and clearly declare how something ‘should be’. Empirical statements endeavor to be neutral. They say what ‘is’ there and exist and do not pass any judgment. Normative statement may be misleading while there is no danger of it in empirical statement.

Both normative and empirical theories are used in Economics. In Economics only fact are not sufficient. People want to know what are the economical policies of the government run by the representative who have been elected by the people to run the government. So, questions arise and judgments are passed. Economists criticize and analyze policies and then pass the judgments for the betterment of the policies.

Empirical statements are objective and full of facts and information. Normative statements on the other hand are subjective. They are based on values and thus cannot be proved. See the statements below:

Our country is one of the biggest economic powers in the world.

                Our country is great.

The above statement is empirical because it can be proved right or wrong with the facts of economy. On the other hand second statement is normative as it is subjective and there is no special yardstick to prove the statement.


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  • tdwilliamson

    The author accurately points out that empirical studies tend to focus on “is,” while normative thinking seeks to understand “ought.” However, it is not true that normative judgments are subjective, as claimed.

    Empirical studies, in an attempt to determine what is, will rely heavily on observation; these claims are largely founded upon the scientific method and inductive logic. The sample sentence, “Our country is one of the biggest economic powers in the world,” is a subjective claim which can be verified by observation.

    The second sample sentence, “Our country is great,” is not a normative claim, however. Normative claims focus on definitions, utilizing deductive logic more than inductive logic. Interestingly, inductive logic (used in empirical studies) provides reasons to support a claim, but cannot prove a claim; deductive logic, on the other hand, seeks to provide clear proof for the claims being offered.

    The best example of a normative study is mathematics. We can often verify mathematical operations by observation. We can see that 2 + 3 = 5 by placing two cookies on a table, adding three more, and verifying that we have five as a result. So observation can be used to verify. But the principles of mathematics–the definitions, using deductive logic–tell us that 4,521,768 + 3,114,981 = 7,636,749, even if we have not (or cannot) observe that many cookies piled on a table.

    Normative claims seek to help us understand what is true by definition. Perhaps the author wants to suggest that definitions can be subjective. But so can the observations which drive empirical studies.