Normative Characterization in Empirical Explanation

Theoria: Revista de Teoría, Historia y Fundamentos de la Ciencia 30 (2):271 (2015)
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Abstract

Normative characterization is a commonplace feature of biological and cognitive explanation. Such language seems to commit the biological and cognitive sciences to the existence of natural norms, but it is also difficult to understand how such normativity fits into a natural world of physical causes and forces. I propose to map normativity onto systems stabilized by counteractive constraints. Such a mapping, I believe, can explain normativity's causal-explanatory role in biological and cognitive inquiry. The common approach in the literature is to derive an account of natural normativity by way of a particular theory of function. I avoid that approach here and attempt to address directly the sort of physical systems that might satisfy naturalizing criteria for normativity. This has the advantages, I think, of allowing an account of normativity without first having to decide the correct theory of function as well as allowing for the theoretical possibility that normative and functional explanation might come apart within empirical explanation.

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Mark Bauer
University of Colorado Denver

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