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This is a Political area of this website, theory of all types of government is discussed. 

Revolutions of the 20th Century built upon a Battle over the Word


Metascience and Politics, 282-311



Metascience and Politics, 282-311. PAGEREF _Toc177111200 \h 1

On Normative Discourse. PAGEREF _Toc177111201 \h 1

ETHICS.. PAGEREF _Toc177111202 \h 1

Perlocutionary Discourse. PAGEREF _Toc177111203 \h 2

On Normative Discourse. PAGEREF _Toc177111204 \h 5

Normative Argument PAGEREF _Toc177111205 \h 5

On Normative Discourse.. PAGEREF _Toc177111206 \h 7

The Nature of “Primary Values”. PAGEREF _Toc177111207 \h 9

The Resolution of Normative Disagreement PAGEREF _Toc177111208 \h 11

Normative Language and “Value-Free” Science.. PAGEREF _Toc177111209 \h 18

Warranted truth claims: Logic, social and natural science.. PAGEREF _Toc177111210 \h 19





Locutionary–adjective Philosophy, Linguistics: pertaining to the act of conveying semantic content in an utterance, considered as independent of the interaction between the speaker and the listener. 

Descriptive: designating or a branch of a science in which its data or materials are described and classified

se·man·tic    [si-man-tik] –adjective 1. of, pertaining to, or arising from the different meanings of words or other symbols: semantic change; semantic confusion.  2. of or pertaining to semantics. 


cog·ni·tive   –adjective 1. of or pertaining to cognition.  2. of or pertaining to the mental processes of perception, memory, judgment, and reasoning, as contrasted with emotional and volitional processes. 

con·sta·tive   Philosophy, Linguistics –adjective 1. (of an utterance) describing a state of affairs; making a statement that can be said to be true or false.  –noun 2. a constative utterance. 

nor·ma·tive     –adjective 1. of or pertaining to a norm, esp. an assumed norm regarded as the standard of correctness in behavior, speech, writing, etc.  2. tending or attempting to establish such a norm, esp. by the prescription of rules: normative grammar.  3. reflecting the assumption of such a norm or favoring its establishment: a normative attitude.  

per·lo·cu·tion·ar·y  –adjective Philosophy, Linguistics. (of a speech act) producing an effect upon the listener, as in persuading, frightening, amusing, or causing the listener to act. 

as·crip·tion  [uh-skrip-shuhn] –noun 1. the act of ascribing.  2. a statement ascribing something, esp. praise to the Deity. 


con·stit·u·en·cy      –noun, plural -cies. 1. a body of constituents; the voters or residents in a district represented by an elective officer.  2. the district itself.  3. any body of supporters, customers, etc.; clientele. 


id·i·o·syn·cra·sy       –noun, plural -sies. 1. a characteristic, habit, mannerism, or the like, that is peculiar to an individual.  2. the physical constitution peculiar to an individual.  3. a peculiarity of the physical or the mental constitution, esp. susceptibility toward drugs, food, etc. Compare allergy (def. 1). 



id·i·o·syn·crat·i·cal·ly, adverb

—Synonyms 1. peculiarity, quirk. See eccentricity.


tac·it  –adjective 1. understood without being openly expressed; implied: tacit approval.  2. silent; saying nothing: a tacit partner.  3. unvoiced or unspoken: a tacit prayer.

—Related forms

tac·it·ly, adverb

tac·it·ness, noun 



–noun 1. authorization, sanction, or justification.  

2. something that serves to give reliable or formal assurance of something; guarantee, pledge, or security. 

3. something considered as having the force of a guarantee or as being positive assurance of a thing: The cavalry and artillery were considered sure warrants of success. 

4. a writing or document certifying or authorizing something, as a receipt, license, or commission. 

5. Law. an instrument, issued by a magistrate, authorizing an officer to make an arrest, seize property, make a search, or carry a judgment into execution. 

6. the certificate of authority or appointment issued to an officer of the armed forces below the rank of a commissioned officer. 

7. a warehouse receipt. 

8. a written authorization for the payment or receipt of money: a treasury warrant. 

–verb (used with object) 9. to give authority to; authorize. 

10. to give reason or sanction for; justify: The circumstances warrant such measures. 

11. to give one's word for; vouch for (often used with a clause to emphasize something asserted): I'll warrant he did! 

12. to give a formal assurance, or a guarantee or promise, to or for; guarantee: to warrant someone honorable treatment; to warrant payment; to warrant safe delivery. 

13. to guarantee the quantity, quality, and other representations of (an article, product, etc.), as to a purchaser. 

14. to guarantee or secure title to (the purchaser of goods); assure indemnification against loss to. 

15. Law. to guarantee title of an estate or other granted property (to a grantee). 



Rationalism: philosophy – intellectualism, as opposed to emotionalism in understanding.

Also, se·man·ti·cal.



On Normative Discourse



I submit that all political problems are in the end ethical  problems. And by political problems I mean here both the day to day problems faced by the  legislator, and the problems of  political theory, of how government itself is to be organized or  justified. Politics in both these senses depends, I suggest, on ethics.  Brand Blanshard

Ultimate political goals are most
often stated in terms which are
so general that hardly anyone—
at least among those who are
on speaking terms—would deny
being committed to them.
Felix Oppenheim

I contend that there are no serious moral problems that cannot in principle be resolved by the practice of rationality.
Robert Olson

“Normative discourse” involves all locutionary acts in and through which we express evaluation, prescribe and proscribe acts and tender reasons for or against evaluations and prescriptions. Its function is appraisive, prescriptive and justificatory. We employ normative language to express shock and indignation, to admit responsibility, to express guilt or remorse, to praise and blame, to appraise or evaluate, to enjoin or to prescribe, to admonish or reprove, to deliberate about and to raise and resolve moral issues. Normative language specifically involves characteristically expressive, appraisive and justificatory constituents.

One of the principal features of normative discourse is its peculiarly “perlocutionary” function. Normative discourse employs locutionary acts calculated (implicitly or explicitly) to exercise some influence and/or to produce some effect; when one evaluates or prescribes, and offers reasons for so appraising or prescribing one can be said, generally, to have intended to exercise some influence over himself or his audience and over his own or their subsequent behavior.1 This seems to be the reason why metaethicists have consistently conceived normative terms to have not only “expressive,” but “dynamic” or “persuasive” function as well.

It would seem plausible to maintain that the simple expressive function of language is not, in a significant sense, perlocutionary. That is, if one simply wishes to express his outrage or hurt, it is a matter of complete indifference whether one has an audience or not, or whether they are or are not in any sense influenced by his outrage or hurt. The function of such language is essentially cathartic. Simple expressive language is spontaneous and whatever effects or influence it invokes is unintentional, nondeliberative and non- cognitive. But we rarely, if ever, use moral language for such simple expressive and cathartic purposes. Generally, we employ normative locutions in a complex deliberate or unconscious attempt to influence our audience (or ourselves)—to prompt them (or ourselves) to reevaluate, to reassess, and to resolve to do better. We may remonstrate simply to relieve psychic tension (and in that sense produce some effect), but when we seriously engage in such efforts it is for the purpose of influencing or persuading others or ourselves in a more or less rational and deliberate manner.

Perlocutionary Discourse

In his early analysis of ethical terms and ethical locutions, A. J. Ayer characterized them on the one hand as “simply expressions of emotion,” as “simply evincing.., moral disapproval,” and “merely expressing certain moral sentiments,” and yet on the other that “they are calculated also to arouse feeling and so to stimulate action.”2 Normative utterances are, in effect, locutionary performances that have, characteristically, perlocutionary intention. We embark upon such performances not merely to give expression to attitudes, but to influence the moral sentiments, reasonings and behavior of ourselves and/or our audience.

C. L. Stevenson has similarly suggested that the major function of normative locutions is “to create an influence. Instead of merely describing people’s interests they change or intensify them. They recommend an interest in an object, rather than state that the interest already exists.” The language user is not describing any particular state of affairs, except insofar as he is “trying to change it by his influence. . . . Thus ethical terms are instruments used in the complicated interplay and readjustment of human interests.”

This seems to mark a (if not the) significant distinction between normative and descriptive (or empirical) discourse. Descriptive discourse is not essentially perlocutionary; it is constative or simply or essentially cognitive. That is to say while it is true that declaring, asserting, opining, affirming, reporting, describing and explaining are generally undertaken, for example, to effect communication and in principle all such undertakings are implicitly intersubjective, successful communication is not essential to such locutionary performances—they are as successful, cognitively, when we rehearse our knowledge in privacy as when we communicate to a constituency. Furthermore constative utterances, utterances which make truth claims, may or may not influence our or anyone else’s attitudes or behavior nor is its essential purpose to do so. We have already suggested that we may know that certain claims are fully warranted—true—and yet not act on them. They are nonetheless true.

Such a distinction strikes us, prima facie, as odd. If constative utterances need not successfully communicate, and whatever truths they assert need not necessarily influence behavior, why on earth would they be of interest to us?
The key to the solution is contained in the question. Strictly cognitive utterances are of interest to us because they are, in fact, of interest to us. Nor is this simple punning. If it is a tautology, it is an instructive tautology. Like, “Business is business,” it conceals an argument—it is, itself, an elliptical argument. We are interested in truth because truth provides us with predictive advantage in the social and natural world—and it is in our interest in terms of welfare benefits to have that leverage. That is to say, we help to satisfy elemental welfare needs by attending to truth. Not a few philosophers have alluded to just such an interest in characterizing the utility, purpose, or function of truth. The allusion is to the satisfaction of primitive and elemental needs—the need for survival, for example. If the individual or group had no interest in survival in any form (natural or supernatural), it would be difficult to conceive of any interest they might have in warranted truth. People concern themselves with truth because truth has proven itself to be one of the most effective tools for enhancing our capacity to survive, as well as effecting our multifold purposes, in the world. In order to satisfy the multiplicity of felt needs, elemental needs, safety needs, love needs, esteem needs, the need for the preconditions of need fulfillments (equity, opportunity, knowledge), among others, truth functions in a critical and irreplaceable fashion.

What this implies is that our concern with constative utterances-our concern with the success of communication and with acting on the basis of warranted truth claims-is predicated upon an irreducible normative assumption. We feel that communication should be successful and that courses of action should be the consequence of a true assessment of facts, assessed potentials and probabilities. In feeling that communication should be successful and that men should act on the basis of warranted truth, we have added a perlocutionary dimension to a linguistic performance. Men should communicate and should act on the basis of truth rather than falsehood and conjecture because successful communication and truth serve the interests of need satisfactions of a variety of kinds, ranging from the satisfaction of elemental wants to derived or ideal wants such as justice, goodness and beauty. A value, in effect, is the measure of a satisfaction of an elemental or a derived want5 and we seek to satisfy wants effectively and expeditiously. Truth serves instrumentally and expeditiously in satisfying individual and collective, elemental or derived, needs. This is hardly more than was said by David Hume a long time ago. Constative utterances assert truths. Hume went on to say:

But where the truths . . are indifferent and beget no desire or aversion, they can have no influence on conduct and behavior. What is intelligible, what is evident, what is probable, what is true procures only the cool assent of the understanding, and, gratifying a speculative curiosity, puts an end to our researches. Extinguish all the warm feelings and prepossessions in favor of virtue, and all disgust and aversion to vice; render men totally indifferent toward these distinctions, and morality is no longer a practical study, nor has any tendency to regulate our lives and actions.

Hume accounted for what has been called the “felt motivational force” of normative discourse7 by attributing that force to the prevalence of positive or negative sentiment generated by felt need. The dynamic quality that makes normative utterances perlocutionary, capable of influencing our behavior and the behavior of our audience, arises out of those “affections” that are constitutive of the “original fabric and formation of the human mind.”
It is a rare philosopher (I can think of none offhand) who would argue that truth and communication are intrinsic goods, that they are valuable in and of themselves. They are, at best, instrumental goods, serving to satisfy some felt want. If men did not choose to survive, did not aspire to the satisfactions that attend the esteem accorded by their reference community, did not glory in acclaim and admiration, did not feel that interaction and interpersonal exchange somehow enhanced their fulfillment of self, it is difficult, if not impossible, to conceive why they would seriously occupy themselves with truth and successful communication. In effect, truth determination is an instrumental good; it serves in the satisfaction of a variety of unproblematic individual and collective human wants.
Men are concerned with normative issues because such issues have immediate or mediate bearing on some real or fictive human need. Since the decline of religion the only defensible set of adequacy criteria for appraisive ascription, the issuance of recommendations and prescriptions, are complex compounds of welfare and satisfaction variables of the population to which normative discourse is addressed. “Values in the extended sense consist in or arise from needs and wants in the narrow sense.”8 Thus Ralph Barton Perry suggests that “a thing—any thing—has value, or is valuable, in the original and generic sense when it is the object of an interest—any interest. Or, whatever is object of interest is ipso facto valuable.

 The analysis of characteristically ethical terms as they are employed in political science or anywhere else involves ultimate reference to some individual or collective, primary or derived, human interest. All attributions of “goodness,” by way of illustration, involve the suggestion that the object or subject to which attribution is made in some way ministers to human want or interest. To suggest that something ministers to human want but is not good can be satisfactorily construed to mean that something may be calculated to satisfy some human interest but at the same time violate some other countervailing human interest immediate satisfaction, for example, as opposed to long-range or ultimate satisfaction.

Should such preliminary suggestions be convincing one understands why normative discourse is conceived as essentially perlocutionary: interest implies sentiments of attraction and aversion, and private interests overlap and intersect in complex patterns with public interests, short-range interests conflict with long-range interests, interests conflict with each other, and primary interests conflict with derived interests. To engage in normative discourse therefore is to attempt to resolve differences, reduce conflict, make interests congruent, convince or be convinced, persuade or be persuaded. Normative discourse is essentially dynamic, calculated to be persuasive, intentionally and deliberately undertaken to influence judgment and reform behaviors. A constative utterance succeeds in doing something when we have succeeded in saving something: we describe, explain and predict. A perlocutionary performance is normally conceived as producing certain consequential effects upon the feelings, judgments or actions of ourselves or our audience by doing something: warning, recommending, commending, evaluating, reproving, convincing, prescribing, and commanding.’’


On Normative Discourse

We would like our constative performances to be successful, to communicate and convince. But that is a consequence of the fact that we feel that communicating and convincing serve some human interest. When we are asked why we think communication and truth are significant, we embark on normative considerations—-and such an activity is perlocutionary. We tender, rebut or accept, justificatory argument. We enter into normative discourse. Men should communicate and they should abandon faulted truth claims. Such convictions are clearly normative and require normative vindications to warrant them.

Normative Argument

The vindications that warrant normative utterances include both constative utterances (true descriptions, explanations, probabilities and predictions) and appeals to attitudes or interests. It is the latter which provides the dynamic force of normative language. What this implies is that normative disagreement can mark a difference not only in flictual disagreement, disagreement concerning the truth of constative or declarative propositions, but disagreement in sentiment- —and characteristically, in atthude. If normative discourse necessarily invokes interest in order to render itself “dynamic,” to deploy ‘felt motivational force,” any normative argument must explicitly or implicitly involve other than appeals to warranted analytic or synthetic truth claims in order to function successfully. It is this consideration, a nietaethical and pragmatic consideration, a consideration in the informal logic of normative language, that has forced the abandonment of all forms of naturalism and has opened the gap now identified as the “is/ought dichotomy.”

Since the time of Hume normative philosophers have recognized that no recitation of “facts,” constative utterances, can in and of themselves generate a normative conclusion. No catalogue of factual or Logical assertions, no matter how extensive, is capable of generating a conclusion in which the prescriptive “ought” legitimately figures. There have been any number of attempts to bridge the logical gap between constative and perlocutionary utterances, but none have, to date, been recognized as successful. Nonetheless, some political philosophers and many political “theorists” continue to argue as though normative discourse involved no special problems. Thus Herbert Marcuse’s attempted vindication of “revolutionary violence” turns on the supposition that the facts of history, the study of past revolutions and their successes and failures, license enjoinments, injunctions, proscriptions, prescriptions, recommendations, and urgings. He argues that “good” and “right” be defined in terms of “human freedom” and “happiness.” “‘Good’ and ‘right’ . . mean serving to establish, to promote, or to extend human freedom and happiness. . . .“ Then he proceeds to indicate that, as a matter of fact, “historical revolutions” were “usually advocated and started in the name of freedom . . .“ and that they have “demonstrably” served to enhance “freedom.” He concludes that we are thereby “justified” in invoking violence (since it is a historic fact that established classes never voluntarily surrender their privileges) to further “freedom”—that one “should,” if necessary, provoke suffering and turmoil to serve such laudable ends. The “end,” he informs us, “justifies the means.”

There are any number of difficulties with this kind of argument, only one of which concerns us at the moment. Even if we grant all the premisses of Marcuse’s argument—we must accept his stipulailve definition of “good” and “right,” which, conjoined with his pronouncements on revolutions and their effects, would vindicate our undertaking, and justify the claim that we “should” undertake the course of action he recommends. But no set of analytic statements conjoined with descriptive utterances, in and of themselves, ever imposes an obligation or provides a justification, unless the analytic statements imply, by definition, normative elements. Thus Marcuse defines anything that enhances “freedom” and “happiness” as “good” and “right.” If this is not to be simply a bald pronouncement on his part, he must present an independent vindication in support of such a definition. It is clearly not self-evident that “good” and “right” mean “serving to establish, to promote, or to extend human freedom and happiness.”

Once this is understood, it is obvious that whatever success Marcuse’s argument enjoys is obtained by imposing a definition on his constituency. Why would anyone be compelled to accept his definition of “good” and “right”? If we recognize that definitions


On Normative Discourse

are empty in the sense that they do not tell us anything about the world, but rather inform us about how someone intends to employ the language, our obvious reprise is to simply dismiss the proffered definition unless reasons can be given in its support. There are any number of mutually exclusive ways of defining “good” and “right.” Hedonists have defined “good” as “pleasure.” Religionists have defined “good” as anything undertaken in accordance with God’s will. Lenin defined the “good” in terms of the class interests of the proletariat. Gentile, as the philosopher of Fascism, defined the “good” as that which serves the realization of man’s potential humanity. Hitler defined the “good” as that which fulfilled man’s evolutionary purpose. Without such antecedent persuasive definitions the recitation of whatever facts is to no purpose. Such definitions proclaim what they are in effect obliged to establish.

We all intuitively grant that once we know what is “good” or “right” we ought to do it. (What else ought we to do—but that which is “good” or “right”?) We use terms like “good” and “right” precisely because their use permits us to mobilize our own energy and the energy of others in the service of some task. In order to effectively accomplish such mobilization we must stipulatively define what we take “good” and “right” to be. The question that should concern us is: how do we vindicate stipulative use? Without vindication such pronouncements would be idiosyncratic—statements of each author’s felt preference. A felt preference, unfortunately, can never serve to support a normative argument that involves the interests of others. This is not to say that men cannot be influenced in their behavior by a variety of techniques: blandishments, threats, violence, surgical insult, drugs, ritual incantations, spurious arguments, rank falsehoods, and the imposition of arbitrary restrictions on their language use. But the only legitimate technique that can be employed to influence the behavior of rational agents, if we are serious in our normative enterprise, is the provision of compelling public arguments. When a scientist recommends that space be defined in terms of a four-dimensional continuum, he is not arbitrarily imposing a definition upon us. He exhibits the purpose of such redefinition. When the


anatomist defines a whale as a “mammal” rather than a “fish,” his recommendation is predicated on the fact that such a redefinition permits a systematization of zoological classification that efficiently and effectively organizes an array of existing knowledge. Such a redefinition provides more substantive descriptive, predictive and theoretical advantage than any alternative definition. The redefinition in such instances is anything but arbitrary and its vindication is eminently rational.

If we are intent upon redefining the “good,” no arbitrary stipulation will do. If the redefinition of the “good” is calculated to influence behavior, our fiduciary responsibilities as rational and consequently moral agents, compel us to advance public reasons for thinking that some policy, which is the entailed consequence of accepting our stipulative normative definitions, is preferable to any alternate policy. Although normative discourse may commence with feelings, reason is its ultimate arbiter and serves to produce attitudes—and attitudes, unlike sentiments and feelings, are sustained dispositions for which we can be, and are, held responsible.

Such an account is admittedly at once a commonplace and a curiosity. In our more lucid moments we all tend to accept the injunction that normative disagreement should be resolved by reasoned argument. In our moments of desperation (after we have been fruitlessly involved in normative dispute) we hold that since all normative disagreements involve human sentiment and interest in some critical way, those disagreements ultimately involve a recourse to feelings, and since feelings are eminently personal we make recourse to talk about “ultimate values,” which are “indefeasible” and “invincible.”

One need but review some of the recent literature in political science to discover instances of such desperate strategies. Fairly recently R. C. Pratt insisted that one’s normative commitments rest ultimately on “primary values,” which are the “core beliefs of one’s ethical and political value system” and “for which we feel no justification is required and for which none can be offered.” It follows as a consequence that “a disagreement over primary values cannot be resolved by reason”—an argument repeated with approval by Mulford Sibley.’4 Vernon Van Dyke, in turn and in one place,

insists that “ultimate values must be regarded as self-justifying; they are simply postulated.”’ The curious feature about such an account is that it is advanced by representatives of completely divergent points of view. Pratt suggests “faith” as the source of “ultimate values”— Sibley appeals to “prescientific” or “tacit” knowings—and both Pratt and Sibley oppose “positivism” in political science. Van Dyke, on the other hand, identifies his account with the “positivistic” persuasion. Both “positivists,” “fldeists,” and “traditional” political theorists thus consciously or unconsciously conspire to convince us that reason has no leverage over “ultimate values.” In effect (some tacitly and some explicitly), all recommend refuge in some form of transrationalism to resolve normative disagreement.

Other than the fact that whatever is true in such an account is trivial and whatever is wrong is outrageously wrong, one is advised to consider its pragmatic implications. If ultimate values are the consequence of commitments made on personal “faith,” or are simple “assumptions” or “postulates,” forever insulated against reason, how does one undertake to resolve normative disagreement? One can only have recourse to blandishments, threats, violence, surgical insult, drugs, psychotherapy, ritual incantations, specious argument, rank falsehoods, or the imposition of arbitrary definitions.

What is true, but trivial, about such accounts is the suggestion that there are some “primary values” which lend normative force to any collection of factual assertions. These values generally make their appearance in the form of words having high emotive salience, “survival,” “freedom,” “happiness,” “democracy,” “fulfillment,” “justice,” as well as an inordinately long list of similar candidate expressions. All such terms (and they are context and time dependent
—some signs will have greater emotive or persuasive force at one time and in one context rather than another) possess the faculty of engaging interest, invoking sentiment. That is, in fact, their function. They are included in the catalogue of normative terms because they possess that faculty. Such terms constitute the unproblematic values which engage disputants in normative discourse and provide the dynamic force which sustains the exchange and permits the transit from the “is” to the “ought.”


The Nature of “Primary Values”

It makes very little prima fade sense to ask why one thinks that “survival,” “happiness” or “freedom” is to be pursued. Scholars, philosophers and humanists of all types and persuasions, for all and sundry times, have advanced “survival,” “happiness,” “freedom,” or “pleasure” as “primary or ultimate values”—and we do not, in fact, resist according value to such terms. They do, as a matter of fact, engage our interest. What might one oppose to such “primary values”: death, unhappiness, slavery or pain? No thinker in history has ever argued that extinction, unhappiness, slavery and pain are intrinsically good. 16 Terms like “existence,” “happiness,” “freedom,” and “pleasure” are terms that invoke general approbation— “good” being the most general term of approbation in our language. Termslike”unhappiness,” “slavery,” “pain,” “death,” “vice,” “bad,” are terms that elicitdisapprobation. Such terms are invoked because, in and of themselves, they elicit sentiments of approval or disapproval. Their meaning is all but exhausted in their emotive function. Their principal function is perlocutionary; they are calculated to engage our positive or negative interest, to influence and produce effect. In some cases their use is exhaustively characterized by their very dynamic or persuasive use. Thus Henry Kariel suggests that we can learn a great deal about political values from existential psychology, for it teaches us that men “should be themselves,” that their decisions should be “authentic,” in order to organize human efforts around “undefined freedom.” If we understand such “values,” he suggests, we will bend every effort to “enlarge the sphere of freedom.”  


If one considers such arguments, one finds that no constative affirmations are made or implied. What else should men be if not themselves? How else should they behave except “authentically”? If “freedom” is not defined, how can we be seriously obliged to enlarge upon it? In effect we are all prepared to opt for “existence,” “freedom,” “fulfillment,” “happiness,” “authenticity,” “being oneself,” “pursuing the good life,” but in having so opted we know nothing more than before we so opted. Nor would knowledge that one’s opponent in normative disagreement opted for such “primary values” be informative in any substantive sense.


 The rather simpleminded distinction between Communists, Fascists and democrats, for example, that rests on the assumption that they individually or severally entertain different “primary values,” is simply false. When Barrington Moore suggests that Fascists “violently” reject “humanitarian ideals, including any notion of potential human equality,” he is simply historically wrong. 18 Early in his youth Benito Mussolini insisted that his “primary value,” a value that he entertained throughout his political career, was that “man should fulfill himself as man (sii uonio)”19—clearly a “humanitarian” ideal. Giovanni Gentile, the philosopher of Fascism by Mussolini’s choice, invoked the same injunction forty years later. He also added that man is the “end,” the goal of all enterprise, things were only means, All men, for Gentile, were equal denizens of Kant’s “kingdom of ends.” Furthermore, he insisted that Fascism was the culmination of humanism, the fulfillment of complete humanism.

It is simply not true that normative disagreement in the political arena is predicated on different “core,” “root” or “ultimate values,” Neither Fascists, National Socialists, Marxists nor democrats opt for different values in the privative and primitive sense suggested in the account offered by Pratt and Sibley. Lenin, for example, in offering justificatory argument for his political values, made ultimate appeal to his intention to create a “paradise on earth” for men—an unproblematic value. Hitler argued that his intentions were to satisfy man’s deepest aspirations—and every issue of the Nationalsozjalistjsche Monatshete carried the term “Freedom!” on its masthead—again the ultimate appeal was to unproblematic “primary” values.

Such commitments to “ultimate values” are simply too common, if not universal, to suggest that they constitute the source of real differences in serious normative dispute. Such commitments give us no cognitive advantage in discriminating between candidates, they afford no predictive leverage in anticipating outcomes. They are explained by having a rudimentary comprehension of how such terms of positive commendation function in normative discourse as a technique to engage interest. They are terms of high emotional salience and their use psychologically compels our attention they engage our interest because they tap affirmative sentiments. In and of themselves they are noncognitive—which is not to say that normative dispute is noncognitive. it simply means that in order to engage interest one must tap a sentiment and characteristically normative terms are conjured up to perform just such a perlocutionary function. Such terms function in a critical and irreducible manner in normative discourse—but it does not mean that normative disputes are reducible to such terms. if we are serious about engaging in dispute, we will have to undertake something more than the rehearsal of “ultimate values” or the issuance of bromides.

We will have to assume that our opponent understands the rudimentary and informal logic of normative discourse. We assume that he is engaged by terms like “survival,” “freedom,” “happiness,” “fulfillment,” “justice,” “authenticity,” “right,” and “good.” As a matter of historic fact no political philosopher has ever failed to be engaged by such terms. There has been no thinking Fascist, National Socialist, Marxist, segregationist, democrat, “progressive,” or “conservative,” who has not been positively engaged by such expressions—which more than suggests that disagreement lies elsewhere. If “primary values” refer to “feelings” and “sentiments,” the fact need not particularly distress us. The fact is that we all share common sentiments about “primary or ultimate values.” There are perhaps cases where an individual is, in fact, sincerely committed to death, destruction and maximizing pain. But 1 suspect that we would (with good reason) dismiss such an individual as the proper subject for psychotherapy rather than identifying him as a bona jIde disputant in normative discourse.

The Resolution of Normative Disagreement

sua·sion   Pronunciation[swey-zhuhn] Pronunciation Key - –noun 1. the act of advising, urging, or attempting to persuade; persuasion.  2. an instance of this; a persuasive effort. 

Serious normative discussion commences when we offer reasoned stipulations for the suasive terms employed to engage our interests, and when we argue that some one or another course of action furthers or diminishes the potential satisfaction of “survival,” “freedom,” “happiness,” “fulfillment” or what-have-you. But such disputes are intelligible and intelligent. We offer reasonably clear argued definitions of terms—we offer reasons for according oneself with such a definition—and then we collect evidence to support our conviction that one rather than another policy, one rather than another list of priorities, furthers our clear, public intentions. We ask our opponent what he conceives as prerequisite to “survival,” what he means by “freedom” or “fulfillment.” If the terms go “undetermined” or “undefined,” any further discussion is futile. One test ofjustificatory argument of any sort is internal consistency, Contradictory systems, as we have seen, are sterile; they are inherently incapable of characterizing either truth or falsity. Whenever a normative theorist pretends to hold that internal contradiction does not destroy a justificatory argument, the search for truth is faulted and a calculated or unconscious deception has begun. Without definition and reasonable specificity no significant discussion is possible.

When we are enjoined to “enlarge the sphere of freedom,” and are then informed that freedom is “undefined,” we recognize that that injunction is of no account. Freedom, being undefined, could never be identified. We cannot do that which we are, in principle, incapable of doing. If the injunction that we are morally obliged to do something is to be binding, it must entail, minimally, that we are capable of knowing what we are to do and having done it, knowing that we have, in fact, done it. This requires a reasonably specific definition of what is to be done. Only then would we know what counts as successful and faulted performance, when we have satisfied a moral obligation. Only a reasonably clear characterization of what we are enjoined to do begins to put us under the obligation to do it. Thus it is not particularly helpful to define “freedom” by taking refuge in similarly obscure, complex and undefined emotive expressions. Thus when Marcuse defines “freedom” as the “good,” and the “right,” or as the “possibility of a fulfilled existence worthy of man,” or tells us that our “positive” ideal should be a “free and rational future society” which is, in principle, “beyond definition and determination,” we are little better off than when we started.22 We are incapable of identifying what is not conducive to the society Marcuse recommends unless we can define “freedom” and “rationality” with some specificity, and unless we tender factual determinations concerning what is necessary and/or sufficient for their realization in fact.

If we observe how normative discussion actually proceeds, we will notice that some unproblematic value or values are, at its commencement, invoked: i.e., “freedom,” “integrity,” “fulfillment,” or “survival.” Then such terms are defined with some precision in terms of physiological, psychological, and emotional needs—empirical matters. No recourse to argument is made to engage the audience’s approval of the unproblematic values initially invoked. Terms like “survival,” “freedom,” “integrity,” and “justice” are, in fact, employed because they possess unproblematic positive emotive force. In this sense all contemporary normative theorists implicitly or explicitly accept a rudimentary emotive theory of normative meaning. We assume that our audience will be disposed to approve of survival, freedom and justice. If they opt for death, slavery and injustice, we dismiss them, and rightly so, as not understanding the simple informal logic of moral dispute. If they are serious, they are not opting for death, pain, slavery, and the lack of integrity. What they are attempting to suggest is that they refuse our definitions—and what we hold to be freedom and justice are slavery and injustice. On such occasions we are engaged in a dispute about alternative definitions, for definitions like all analytic assertions, are invoked to serve some purpose—they rest on a rationale. If we wish to vindicate our proffered definition, we must provide that rationale for public scrutiny.

Normative discussion either commences with a statement of unproblematic values—or preliminary probes are made until common sentiments are tapped. The “primary values” to which some political theorists resort are general and unproblematic values, so general and so unproblematic that hardly anyone would resist being committed to them. No one seriously resists identification with “freedom,” “fulfillment,” “justice,” “peace,” “beauty,” “right,” and “good.” Serious discussion commences, in fact, when one seeks to define such terms of general approbation, when one attempts to establish that one such value should have priority over the realization of another, when one attempts to articulate a logically coherent collection of propositions (including warranted descriptive truth claims, lawlike assertions and probability estimates) which vindicate the prescriptions, proscriptions, recommendations and warnings which constitute the moralist’s stock-in-trade. In effect, serious discussion commences when the “primary values” invoked to generate interest are unpacked cognitively: one scrutinizes vindications offered for proposed definitions, tests the logical consistency of argument, assesses the evidence mustered to support factual claims and probability statements, and publicly weighs alternatives in terms of projected total outcomes. Once this has been accomplished, one has assumed an attitude—a disposition to behave in a reasoned and consistent manner with respect to a reasonably well-defined range of alternatives.

No one, for example, would resist the prescription that human needs (broadly conceived and empirically characterized) be satisfied whenever and wherever possible, and when and where they do not conflict with other individual or collective, immediate or derived needs. But any such prescription is to little account unless some characterization of “human needs” and their “fulfillment” is given in terms of public evidence and argument. Assertions about “human needs” must be supported by reliable evidence. In this respect political theorists, and moralists in general, have learned a great deal from the organized body of information provided by systematic inquiry into human physiology, biology and psychology. Such information is absolutely essential in attempting to indicate what “primary values” like “justice,” “equality,” “freedom,” and “fulfillment” might effectively mean.

That practicing moralists of almost every persuasion have become aware of such considerations is evidenced, for example, by the “secularization” of religious and political morality. It has become increasingly the case that “morality” is unpacked in terms of human welfare needs, individual and collective, immediate or derived. When we resist fulfilling some human need, what is required is a justification of why we resist. To attempt that, we appeal to some other collection of unproblematic values (in terms of alternate human needs) that might conceivably be sacrificed in attempting such satisfaction (“liberty” as opposed, for example, to “equality”). There are, in effect, intersecting “demand curves.” Such curves are not, in general, explicitly formulated either for individual or collective wants. Nor do they regularly or even frequently take on the hierarchical form suggested by those theorists who see “life styles” predicated on a single value or a single specific set of “core” or “root” values. Value “systems” are not, in general, hierarchical. They are more like nets, interconnected sets of propositions founded on sentiment and grounded in facts about the world in which human activity and competition between needs take place.

Values arise from needs and wants. These needs and wants can be either elemental (like “survival”) or derived (like “justice”). Each manifests itself in a distinct, but mutually interactive, demand disposition. It is clear that in some contexts survival will take priority while in others men will die for justice (however construed). No simple hierarchy of values would satisfy such variations in performance. Secondary, instrumental, or “extrinsic” values are those which maximize the efficiency of our attempts to satisfy primary wants or needs.24 Here the procedure is decisively rational. We are dealing with means to relatively specific ends and the ultimate arbiter here is evidence, adequately collected, responsibly processed, and competently interpreted. The methods of adjudication in such instances are clearly those developed in standard science.

Thus when Erich Fromm enjoins us to seek out “freedom” and “integrity,” he characterizes them as imperative needs—certified by evidence that indicates that if one does not satisfy them one courts “insanity.” He further admonishes us that if we are “domineering” or “submissive” rather than possessed of “integrity,” we will “never” find “satisfaction.”25 These are all empirical knowledge claims and they are warranted by meeting the evidence conditions that govern normal science. Is it true, in fact, that if some specific needs of man (“freedom” and “integrity”) are not satisfied, he will become insane? is it true that the effort to dominate or the disposition to be submissive never leads to satisfaction? In order to establish the warrant for such unrestricted descriptive claims one must know what kind of analytic distinctions and synthetic evidence are required. We accept or rebut such arguments on their cognitive merits. We become involved in such arguments because we sense the approval which attends the concern for fulfilling human needs or wants (avoiding insanity and attaining satisfaction). But the emotive component no more makes such discussion “subjective” or “idiosyncratic” than does the recognition that men undertake the search for truth as a consequence of an “exploratory instinct” (to use Pavlov’s unhappy expression) or a dispositional “thirst for knowledge.”

We no more demonstrate the truth of our moral convictions or the merits of our value priorities than we demonstrate the truth of our descriptive utterances. Both rest on analytic and descriptive adequacy criteria—and demonstration is appropriate, as we have seen, only in the former domain. Our commitment to descriptive truth, moral judgment, or normative priorities is never licensed by a demonstration—it is a commitment which is both fallible and corrigible. But to have said that is not to have said that moral scepticism is any more defensible than scepticism about our knowledge of the object world. We realize that we can never be logically certain that our perceptions reveal features of the object world or that inductive procedures are invincibly incorrigible, but that does not mean that we therefore have no reason to affirm that our sensory organs afford knowledge of discriminable features of the object world. In order to affirm that we know a great deal about the world we inhabit, it is not necessary to demonstrate that some “observation statements” are indefeasibly or logically true. We, in fact, entertain systems of thought in which certain initial credibilities are funded. Any constituent proposition in that initial deposit of funded empirical credibilities can, in principle, be rejected for good reason. In making new affirmations those entrenched credibilities may be displaced. But we do get on in the world—we do tender explanations which afford insight into predictions, we do anticipate outcomes successfully, and our control over nature and ourselves does expand. We have every reason to believe that we have knowledge about the world of experience—even though we cannot license that knowledge with demonstrations. Demonstrations are appropriate to one restricted domain of discourse; it is a mistake to attempt to impose adequacy criteria appropriate to one domain over the whole universe of discourse.

Similarly, our funded and unproblematic values, that one should fulfill human needs, satisfy human wants, and their cognate imperatives, are eminently credible. Any of them, of course, however they are characterized, and whatever priorities we assign them at any particular time and in any particular situation, might be subsequently modified or rejected for good reason. But that does not mean that we do not have warranted moral convictions any more than the fact that every scientific proposition is, in principle, corrigible means that we have no knowledge about the world. Moral scepticism is no more defensible, and is certainly more pernicious, than epistemological scepticism.

We know, with as much reason as we have for knowing anything, that pain inflicted for no purpose is bad, that war and oppression, in and of themselves, are hateful and wrong. If someone advocates inflicting pain, it can only be because he holds that pain is productive of some ultimate welfare effect. When Hitler opted for the mass immolation of the Jews, it was not because he argued that pain and death were intrinsic goods. Hitler argued that the Jews, as a “race” or “Volk” (he alternated between these two distinct characterizations), were all purveyors of destruction and, if permitted to survive, would not only destroy culture, but humanity itself. His appeal was not to the intrinsic goodness of massacring Jews or inflicting pain, but to an unproblematic value, the enhancement of culture, or more fundamentally, survival. The assertion that the Jews were harbingers of death and destruction was a flictual claim, to be accepted or rejected on the basis of its objective and evidential merit. The immolation of men through specific design is never self-recommending and, in fact, Hitler never argued that it was. Hitler never argued that killing was intrinsically good. He argued that war was one of the techniques “Nature” employed to insure “survival of the fittest,” those who would support and foster culture and increase man’s collective survival potential—and these were cognitive claims. The rationale for war followed the same informal logic as the rationale for the extermination of the Jews.

The informal logic of such arguments is evidenced in the work of professionals. H. L. A. Hart, for example, has argued for a “minimum content of natural law” and means no more by his argument than that there are a number of self-recommending values which are prima facie engaging. He mentions, for example, survival.


Given survival as an aim, there are a number of entailed or derivative considerations which themselves rest on contingent knowledge about men and the world: the fact that human beings are vulnerable, the fact that they enjoy approximate equality (no individual is so much more powerful than others that he is able, without cooperation, to confidently prevail), the fict that altruism is a limited dispositional property, that resources are, in fact, limited, the fact that men’s knowledge is imperfect and their will deficient.27 Survival is an unproblematic and self-recommending value and we all, in general, harbor sentiments approving it. Which does not mean that as an unproblematic value it can never be brought under scrutiny. But the burden of argument is on the opponent of survival. The answer to the question, “Why survive?” is “Why not?” The fact that survival as a value cannot be demonstrated as impeccably true does not mean that it is not as well-entrenched as the principle of induction. No one has successfully demonstrated that inductive arguments are logically impeccable. When the sceptic indicates as much, our reply is “What do you suggest we employ if not induction?” Demonstration, logical impeccability, is a domain specific acceptability criterion. It is appropriate to formal discourse. It is not appropriate to all constative or normative discourse. We make a corrigible and fallible, but reasoned case, for empirical knowledge claims. We make the same sort of case for normative ones.

We face the object world with certain entrenched descriptive and normative credibilities at our disposal. We accept the principle of induction unless we have reason to reject it. We order our experience with considerable success by entertaining it as an antecedent assumption which we have every reason to credit. Similarly, we face the domain of normative discourse possessed of well-entrenched and credible values. We have at our disposal a number of well-entrenched values: survival, happiness, fulfillment, and freedom, among others. Any or all can at one time or another be brought under scrutiny—and our oppenent will have to argue that, in some sense, nonsurvival, unhappiness, debasement and slavery are to be sought or supported. But it is evident that neither nonsurvival, unhappiness, debasement or oppression can be advanced as self-recommending values. A case must be made for suicide, for example, or for the extrinsic or instrumental value of unhappiness, oppression or the loss of freedom. Such arguments would be either idiosyncratic—applying to special instances (as in the case of suicide), or themselves shown to rest on other unproblematic values (when we argue that “unhappiness ennobles,” or “imprisonment rehabilitates”). A normative vindication must at some point tap unproblematic values—and such values are universalizable in principle. Being universalizable such values are objects of public appraisal. Being objects of public scrutiny, the instrumental value of reason, as an ultimate recourse in normative dispute, becomes obvious. Normative discussion arises from the interaction and competition of prima facie and self-recommending wants or needs within historic and contextual objective constraints and resource limitations. There is nothing intrinsically good or evil about any entrenched values, and operating in the world may lead to a subsequent reevaluation of any one of them in terms of which original wants are transformed or abandoned. Nothing outside the object world and the world of human reason is necessary for this process to begin and to proceed apace once men become engaged.

There is nothing intrinsically good in satisfying wants or needs; one simply doesn’t know what else to satisfy. One has a good reason for satisfying a need or want because it is a felt need or want. One may discover overriding reasons for not satisfying one want or another because wants and needs are lodged in an interactive and complex constellation—serving one need may impair the fulfillment of another. If it is a fact that men have a variety of needs and wants that can only be satisfied in association—the entailed commitments that follow include a host of what used to be called “prima fade obligations”: promise-keeping, gratitude, integrity, beneficence and so forth.

Each individual has at his disposal an elaborate network of values developed under the impact of special and contextual constraints and circumstances. As long as he can pretend that his decisions are strictly self-regarding, his ultimate appeal may be to preferences, wants and needs and satisfactions that are personal. If there are any such self-regarding acts, personal preferences would be their vindication. But most (if not all) normative discussion involves the wants and interests of others as well as oneself, and arguments calculated to resolve them must appeal to more general values and in the last analysis universalizable nonproblematic values. These values tend to be, by the very character of the generality, cognitively empty. This is the merit of the emotive analysis of value terms.

But as a matter of fact we never argue about these “primary values,” and they never constitute the grounds for accepting one course of action rather than another. What we do argue about are the definitions to be accorded self-recommending values like “survival,” “freedom,” “happiness,” and “fulfillment.” This taps the formal language domain and is governed by its adequacy criteria. Or we may argue about the most effective and efficient means of achieving ends once we have agreed on their adequate characterization—- or we may argue about what one policy rather than another implies with respect to total outcomes. All this taps the empirical or descriptive, as well as the formal, language domains and is subject to their conjoint domain specific evidence conditions.

Normative argument is difficult to resolve primarily because there are any number of unproblematic values that can be individually and collectively entertained. Most normative priorities, the option for one policy rather than another, involve a host of enormously complex questions concerning possible outcomes, anticipated costs and conceivable implications. In effect, normative arguments are difficult to resolve not because they are normative, but because they are enormously complex. What one requires for their resolution is best evidence, for subtending all but an exiguous number, are universalizable unproblematic values. What one requires is not mystic insight, or “humanity,” but tolerance, a disposition to enter into involved and detailed inquiry, an indisposition to invoke hasty generalization, exploit hyperbolic and condensed language, and a recognition that the only legitimate recourse in dispute is reasoned judgment.

Normative Argument and Cognitive Activity

Normative argument commences with an appeal to unproblematic values sustained by unreflective sentiment. If one has learned a atural language possessed of general terms of approbation, one’s interest is engaged by those terms. The appeal of general terms of approbation provides the common sentimental base from which argument proceeds. Initial agreement is not difficult to obtain simply because such commitment involves no specific cognitive entailments. Serious argument begins when definitions are offered for critical terms and when facts, interpretations, predictions, and judgments are marshalled to vindicate a specific priority, recommendation, injunction, proscription, prescription, or evaluation. But all this proceeds within the confines of rationality. If one finds himself uttering logical inconsistencies, makes appeals to truth claims that are unwarranted, tenders predictions that are vague or unsupported by the best possible evidence, offers explanations that are faulted, such an argument can no longer serve to vindicate a normative posture.

Karl Marx began his enterprise with an appeal to “fulfillment” and “freedom.” “Fulfillment” and “freedom” were subsequently explicated (particularly in the period between 1843 and 1845) in terms of “alienation,” and “alienation” was, in turn and ultimately, analyzed in terms of the consequences of a particular form of economic activity. Marx spent his mature life explicating what “freedom” and “fulfillment” meant. What this involved was the articulation of a specifically social science theory—- in the formal sense of theory. In order to vindicate his moral commitments it was necessary for Marx to invoke the entire machinery of rational inquiry. His normative posture is only as defensible as the antecedent premisses, both analytic and empirical, of the argument that vindicates them. lithe statemental components of his vindication, the analytic, description, explanatory and predictive assertions constituent to his account are impaired, the entire vindication is in such measure impaired.

Once the entire normative argument has been rehearsed, an individual can be said to assume a normative attitude. Most sophisticated “emotive theorists” recognize that the original attempt to interpret ethical language in terms of “mere sentiment” was flawed. Contemporary metaethicists speak of ethical assertions as expressing attitudes and not sentiments. The distinction is relatively clear. One can be held responsible for one’s attitudes. They are the consequence of rational assessments, choice and acts of will. Attitudes, furthermore, frequently will conflict with sentiments—and on occasion attitudes require the suspension of sentiments (when, for example, we are expected to tender judgments of guilt or innocence). One cannot be held responsible for one’s sentiments—they are spontaneous. Sentiments may act as motives, but they can never constitute vindications (except in those instances of purely self- regarding acts). Our attitudes, on the other hand, require justificatory argument—and that argument will invoke constative utterances, warranted truth claims of a formal or descriptive order. Attitudes are, in principle, defended by rational argument.

What this implies is that although values are intrinsically and irreducibly the products of felt needs and wants, decisions made to pursue one rather than another effort at satisfying one or another need or want (however defined) can be understood to rest ultimately on public argument and their merits judged by common tests of adequacy. This is not to say that disputants will always and invariably recognize good arguments from bad ones—any more than the scientific method insures that all practitioners of science will be good scientists. What it means is that we have objective standards of evaluation for normative argument. Any normative argument that is the product of impaired logic or faulted factual, explanatory or predictive assessment, is a bad argument and fails as a vindication of an attitude, a policy or a course of conduct.

Normative Language and “Value-Free” Science

This analysis suggests something not only about the character of normative dispute, but of science as well. Political scientists are lamentably disposed to involve themselves in discussions about the “value-free” status of their inquiries. Other political scientists will insist with equal emphasis that science cannot be “value free.” The argument becomes truly perverse when the claim is made that because science is either value free or not value free all objective claims can be warranted or no objective claims can be warranted.

There are a host of confusions involved in such discussions. One turns on the notion of “objectivity,” a notion that occupied us at some length in Chapter Two. At this point “objectivity” means unimpeachable reliability for truth claims in the formal, and maximal reliability for truth claims in the descriptive, domain. Science is objective, in this sense, irrespective of the personal needs or wants that motivate a man to concern himself with scientific or strictly logical pursuits, because intrinsic to science and logic are standards which guarantee maximal and absolute reliability, respectively. There are no descriptive truth claims that are, in fact, more reliable than those made by science, nor formal truth claims more reliable than those made by logic.

Even if an individual undertook political science inquiry because of the basest motives, the love for money, the desire to dominate and oppress, the lust for personal status, or his Marxist or Fascist persuasion, his work would nonetheless be judged on the basis of the intrinsic norms of science or logic, norms which prevail because they have shown themselves to be maximally or absolutely reliable. This implies, of course, a recognition that reliability has at least insistent instrumental value for men. Its instrumental value is obviously essential to men who wish to get on in the world, who wish to navigate in time and space and anticipate futures. Any reco,nrnendation, warning or prescription that is indifferent or oblivious to reliable knowledge about the world is no recommendation at all. Any evaluation based on vague and ambiguous criteria, that cannot make recourse to confirmed properties of the objects under evaluation is no evaluation at all. In effect, while science and logic are not value free (since they are undertaken by men to satisfy some felt need)—they are objective and their objectivity implies autonomous norms intrinsic to science, independent of the motives which moved the researcher to undertake his pursuits. Conversely, normative judgments, whether they are productive of recommendations, injunctions, prescriptions, or evaluations, are not “fact free” nor “logic free,” and therefore are equally, and to that measure, objective. No normative “principle,” “ultimate or primary value,” innocent of conjunction with fact and logic, is capable of producing a defensible recommendation, injunction, prescription, or evaluation.

Warranted truth claims: Logic, social and natural science

Values, logic, and fact are inextricably united in the knowledge enterprise. Logic is pursued because some men see some point in it— its instrumental value in the service of “survival,” “fulfillment,” “happiness,” “freedom,” or what-have-you. But once logic is undertaken, it is governed by autonomous public norms for certifying its formal truth claims. Similarly social and natural science is undertaken to provide a more exhaustive catalogue of warranted truth claims which have served eminently well as instrumental to the satisfaction of any number of human wants as well as the assessment of the total outcome of any one rather than another policy. The entire constellation of values, logic and fact we entertain at any one time constitutes a network in which we attempt to maximize internal cognitive strength as well as maximize total value outcomes. Choices at any point in the system can generate asymmetrical normative or cognitive strains that threaten the entire fabric with formal incongruity and cognitive inconsistency and involve the possible rejection of well-entrenched values and facts. Values, logic and fact interact throughout the extended cognitive system in complex fashion. There is constant and responsible readjustment in order to maximize cognitive congruence, constancy, and reliability as well as maximize total value outcomes. We seek order in the descriptive world because our exchanges can thereby be systematized and our expectations confidently entertained. We seek order in our moral universe for the same reason, and in order to responsibly assess how the satisfaction of one value will influence our pursuit of other values.

To accomplish these ends recourse to reasoned argument is our only responsible strategy. Political scientists have often been so confused about the informal logic of normative discourse, about the determinate function of systematically acquired knowledge in the resolution of normative disagreement, that they have argued that ‘social science [can only make us wise] in all matters of secondary importance, but we have to be resigned to utter ignorance in the most important respect: we cannot have any knowledge regarding heir soundness or unsoundness; our ultimate principles have no ) their support than our arbitrary and hence blind preferences.”

This doleful account is misleading in a number of ways, but its fundamental defect is a result of having assumed that the “ultimate principles” to which political theorists make ready recourse have, in and of themselves, cognitive and action implications and must be sought outside of systematic inquiry in “faith,” “intuition,” or a nonscientific “history.” Ultimate political principles, as we have argued here, are essentially devoid of cognitive content and have few, if any, strict implications for behavior. They are conjured up to engage interest and to provide the dynamic force for normative argument. Therefore it is a mistake to imagine that one is obliged to “prove” or “demonstrate” their “truth.” They are “self-recommending” only insofar as they recommend nothing specific at all. Their function is to engage sentiment. They begin to function cognitively when they are defined, when the proffered definitions are vindicated by exhibiting possible outcomes, when the import of the policies such stipulative definitions entail are characterized in terms of total cost and total outcomes against the multiplicity of values harbored and the cognitive consistency sought—when they provide vindications for attitudes.

Normative disagreement in politics rarely, if ever, involves disagreement in terms of the “grand alternatives” presumably generated by commitment to “ultimate principles.” Disagreement arises when such “ultimate principles” are defined and their implications, within the context of prevailing normative, natural and social constraints, are drawn out. We can and do certainly argue cognitIvely about such matters. We show that one self-recommending value, defined in one or another way, has perhaps unforeseen consequences with respect to other self-recommending values. Or we indicate that the evidence that is marshalled to support one program rather than another is inconclusive or that probable outcomes are so obscure that it would not be prudent to sacrifice one self-recommending value in the vague hope that some other might be achieved. What techniques could we better invoke than those of the best available social science in order to accomplish all that? What significant evidence do we have that “faith,” “insight,” or “intuition” could more responsibly serve our purpose?

Social science has produced ample evidence that most people do not have clearly articulated values, much less any one specific subtending value, or specific set of values, to which all judgments are subject. Most people harbor a collection of vague generalizations they will identify, under challenge, as their values. It is only in public dispute that those “intuitively” held values are explicated, assessed, and accepted or rebutted. Only in public dialogue are sentiments forged into defensible and responsible attitudes.

Value systems are comfortably pluralistic: more than one state of affairs is intrinsically desirable. Goals are pursued rationally only when all the implications of pursuing one value are drawn out—and at any one time we tend to seek a balance between competing value claims. Demand curves for one value will intersect and mutually affect others. Balance is obtained by cataloguing the self-recommending values entertained by each participant in dispute and affording them a preliminary rank order of preference and then drawing out the implications of such an ordering in terms of the total outcome of each alternative. Demand and indifference curves can be mapped (game theory in political science has been aggressively pursuing this kind of enterprise for some time).3° This requires that values be articulated and defined with reasonable precision, that standards be set that would at least minimally identify fulfillment and default, that argument be undertaken to indicate what factual implications there are in pursuing one or another intrinsic or instrumental value. All of which requires sophisticated philosophical analysis and the best evidence provided by systemic social science inquiry. All of which is complex, unproblematically rational, and, unless one is irredeemably tendentious, scientific.

It is curious that some political theorists believe that the solution to such complex issues as normative dispute can be forthcoming by appeal to some simple “primary values.” More curious still is the insistence that such “ultimate principles” are the gift of some “trans-, post-, or extra-scientific insights.” Some of the most complex issues facing man are conceived amenable to solution through the employment of strategies at once so simple and so inscrutable.

We are all prepared to admit that making responsible truth ascriptions in the formal domain is a complex and difficult task. We train our students for years to master the rudiments of logic—and we often fail to even suggest the difficulties which accompany metalogic. We are similarly prepared to recognize the difficulties involved in making responsible truth ascription in the empirical domain. And we train students for years in adequate research techniques—-without even beginning to broach some of the issues of metascience or the philosophy of science. Yet we tend to think that the resolution of normative disagreement is eminently simple. In political science we make little, if any, effort to indicate the training requisite to responsible truth ascription in the range of normative discourse. We afford little, if any, training in ethics—much less metaethics. We tend to impart the false conviction that normative discourse is transparently simple. All that is required is an appeal to deeply felt values, a hierarchy of values, a hierarchy that rests on some felt preferences which are either “self-evident,” the result of an “act of faith,” an “utterance of conscience,” or more vaguely still, “a product of the human condition.” To pretend that normative discourse involves anything less than the most difficult and complex rational procedures, anything less than the exercise of sophisticated analytic skills and rigorous factual appraisal, is to deceive.





Gregor, A. James, Metascience & Politics, An Inquiry into the Conceptual Language of Political Science, 2nd, ed. (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 2003),pp. 282-311.