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normative theory

normative theory Hypotheses or other statements about what is right and wrong, desirable or undesirable, just or unjust in society. The majority of sociologists consider it illegitimate to move from explanation to evaluation. In their view, sociology should strive to be value-free, objective, or at least to avoid making explicit value-judgements. This is because, according to the most popular philosophies of the social sciences, conflicts over values cannot be settled factually. Moral pronouncements cannot be objectively shown to be true or false, since value-judgements are subjective preferences, outside the realm of rational inquiry. Thus, in his classic statement of the role of values in sociological research, Max Weber informed his audience that ‘if Tolstoi's question recurs to you: as science does not, who is to answer the question: “What shall we do, and, how shall we arrange our lives?” … then one can say that only a prophet or a saviour can give the answers’ (‘Science as Vocation’, 1919
).

The majority of sociological enquiries are therefore analytical and explanatory. They do not pose normative questions such as ‘Which values ought to provide for social order?’ and ‘How ought society to organize itself?’ (Marxist sociologists are of course excluded from this generalization, since they generally subscribe to a different view of the relationship between facts and values, arguing with Marx that ‘the philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point … is to change it’.)

However, without necessarily claiming to be prophets, some contemporary (non-Marxist) sociologists have nevertheless attempted to find non-relativist foundations for solutions to ethical issues, for example by identifying (in the interests of a value such as justice or progress) those moral principles which ought to regulate social relationships and institutions. Derek L. Phillips (Toward a Just Social Order, 1986) has advanced the controversial argument that since claims about truth and knowledge (no less than statements about what ought to be) rest on consensus among a community of enquirers, both explanatory and normative theories share the same epistemological status, and are therefore equally open to rational justification.

This sort of normative theorizing is still a minority pursuit within the discipline, although sociologists generally are often subject to accusations that their analyses are tacitly normative, being biased in favour of particular values and political objectives. Thus, for example, the French sociologist Raymond Aron once commented that the problem with most British sociology was that it was obsessed with the intellectual problems of the British Labour Party.

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theory, normative

theory, normative See NORMATIVE THEORY.

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"theory, normative." A Dictionary of Sociology. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"theory, normative." A Dictionary of Sociology. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/theory-normative