Descriptive versus Normative Claims

Moral claims are a type of normative claim.

For this to be helpful we need to say something about normative claims.

Descriptive versus Normative Claims

A “claim” is statement that asserts something that could be either true or false.

A DESCRIPTIVE claim is a claim that asserts that such-and-such IS the case.

A NORMATIVE claim, on the other hand, is a claim that asserts that such-and-such OUGHT to be the case.

Normative claims make value judgments. Descriptive claims do not make value judgments.

Examples of descriptive claims:

  • “The mug of coffee in front of me is now at room temperature.”
  • “I had toast and eggs for breakfast this morning.”
  • “Kevin is under six feet tall.”

These are all descriptive claims. They make no value judgments.

Examples of normative claims:

  • Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, is a better movie than Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace”.
  • “That was a really stupid thing to do.”
  • “If you wanted to pass that test you should have studied harder.”
  • “Your electrocardiogram test results are normal.”
  • “The State should not have the right to take the life of one of its citizens as punishment for a crime.”

These are all normative claims. Each one of them expresses a value judgment of some kind.

However, only the last one expresses a moral claim. The others express different kinds of non-moral normative values, and make different kinds of normative judgments.

Let’s take a closer look at these different kinds of normative values, so that we have a better idea of what distinguishes moral values and moral claims.