Normativists vs. Naturalists

Here’s another way to frame this debate: the normativists (Rouse, Risjord, and Steuber) think that normativity plays some role in the generation of human behavior, and the naturalists (Turner, Henderson, and Roth) reject all such proposals as invoking the “supernatural.”

For the sake of argument, accept the naturalists’ view, but distinguish the what, how, and why of action, and note that their causal explanations can only really get at the how. But social sciences and social theory have to be concerned with the what and the why of action as well. In many cases, “how” is the least interesting aspect of human behavior.


One Response to Normativists vs. Naturalists

  1. Obiwanky says:

    I, obviously, side with the normativists, as would, I think, Taylor and MacIntyre. How we can we do social science without doing the why? Once we invoke the why, we get some level of normativity.

    But what first caught my attention is the idea that the naturalists object to the reference of a supernatural. This seems problematical to me on two different levels.

    First, why does normativity require supernaturalism? We can certainly build a naturalistic ethics, ala Aristotle, without invoking the gods. Surely we can do the same for social science.

    Second, this rejection seems peculiarly modern and European. What is wrong with supernaturalism? The Lakota Sioux, for instance, make a distinction between the natural and supernatural, but the supernatural pervades the world. Obviously, supernatural is equivocated here, but the point I’m pushing is that the rejection of the supernatural is systematically Modern-European. (Not Western because, of course, the REAL Westerners are groups like the Lakota Sioux.)

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