Descriptive (non-normative) judgments

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Descriptive or non-normative judgments on the other hand, are value-neutral. They describe, name, define, report, and make predictions concerning a certain state of affairs. They are not, however, intended to assert that the state of affairs is good or bad, right or wrong. Non-normative judgments are not meant to imply a favorable or unfavorable attitude toward a given state of affairs, nor are they usually intended to guide human action with respect to that state of affairs. The following statements are examples of non-normative judgments:

Ram is a boy

This is a pen

Of course, in certain contexts some of these “non-normative statements” can be used to express normative judgments. When I say, for example, “your investment lost money”, I may intend this to mean, “You made the wrong investment”. Some statements are ambiguous: They can be interpreted as either normative of non-normative, depending on what the statement is taken to imply or is intended to imply in the context in which it is uttered. To determine whether a statement is normative or non-normative, one must determine whether it is merely meant to describe a certain state of affairs, or whether it is also meant to prescribe certain behavior vis-à-vis that state of affairs. Normative judgments are “prescriptive”, whereas non-normative judgments are simply “descriptive”.


Normative judgments are claims that state or imply that something is good or bad, right or wrong, better or worse, ought to be or ought not to be. Normative judgments, therefore, express values: They indicate a person’s favorable or unfavorable attitude toward some state of affairs. For example:

Rama is a good boy

Honesty is the best policy

Normative judgments express values; they usually carry some implications concerning the kind of conduct with which humans should respond to a situation. If I claim that a certain novel is “good”, for example, I am implying that people should seek it, buy it, or read it. Normative judgments, therefore, the “action guiding” (prescriptive):


Ethics does not study all normative judgments, only those that are concerned with what is morally right and wrong, or morally good and bad. To understand what this means, it may help to see that normative terms such as “right” and “wrong” or “good” and “bad” are generally applied on the basis of some explicit or implicit standards or criteria.

The standards may be legal, as when we judge that it is legally wrong to drive on the left side of a street because a state law prohibits this; or the standards may be grammatical, as when we judge that it is grammatically right to end sentences with prepositions because English grammar now permits this usage; or the standards may be aesthetic, as when we judge that Moby Dick is aesthetically good because it meets the aesthetic standards of art critics.
When something is judged to be morally right or wrong, or morally good or bad, the underlying standards on which the judgment is based are moral standards. Moral standards include both specific moral norm as and more general moral principles. Moral norms are standards of behavior that require, prohibit, or allow certain specific kinds of behavior. Prohibitions against lying, stealing, injuring, and so on, are all moral norms. Moral principles, on the other hand, are much more general standards that are used to evaluate the adequacy of our social policies and institutions as well as of individual behavior. Examples of such principles would include principles of rights, which evaluate policies, institutions, and behavior in terms of the protection they provide for the interests and freedoms of individuals; principles of justice, which evaluate policies, institutions, and behavior in terms of how equitably they distribute benefits and burdens among the members of a group; and principles of utility, which evaluate policies, institutions, and behavior in terms of the net social benefits they produce.

Source: Manuel G. Velasquez, Business Ethics: Concept and cases pp. 9-11.

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