Norms and descriptions

Decision Analysis 5 (2):57-111 (2008)
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Abstract

The problem addressed in this text is the problem of identifying conditions according to which it is possible to distinguish between a descriptive theory and a normative theory. What makes a descriptive theory descriptive and a normative theory normative? Focus is on subjective expected utility theories where it seems open to debate whether the appropriate use is normative or descriptive. My discussion, which takes arguments by Isaac Levi and Hugh Mellor as a point of departure, is mostly negative, showing that there are no obvious distinguishing features of theories qua theories. Rather the theories can be used normatively or descriptively without making them theories of the one kind or the other. I also point to situations in prescriptive decision analysis where one should be observant of in what way theories are used.

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