Closing the gap between ideal and real behavior: Scientific vs. engineering approaches to normativity

Philosophical Psychology 22 (1):61 – 75 (2009)
Abstract
Early normative studies of human behavior revealed a gap between the norms of practical rationality (what humans ought to do) and the actual human behavior (what they do). It has been suggested that, to close the gap between the descriptive and the normative, one has to revise norms of practical rationality according to the Quinean, engineering view of normativity. On this view, the norms must be designed such that they effectively account for behavior. I review recent studies of human perception which pursued normative modeling and which found good agreement between the normative prescriptions and the actual behavior. I make the case that the goals and methods of this work have been incompatible with those of the engineering approach. I argue that norms of perception and action are observer-independent properties of biological agents; the norms are discovered using methods of natural sciences rather than the norms are designed to fit the observed behavior.
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