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Friday, December 17, 2010

fact-value distinction

is a concept used to distinguish between arguments which can be claimed through reason alone, and those where rationality is limited to describing a collective opinion. In another formulation, it is the distinction between what is (can be discovered by science, philosophy or reason) and what ought to be (a judgment which can be agreed upon by consensus). The terms positive and normative represent another manner of expressing this, as do the terms descriptive and prescriptive, respectively. Positive statements make the implicit claim to facts (e.g. water molecules are made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom), whereas normative statements make a claim to values or to norms (e.g. water ought to be protected from environmental pollution).

The fact-value distinction emerged in philosophy during the Enlightenment; in particular, David Hume (1711–1776) argued that human beings are unable to ground normative arguments in positive arguments, that is, to derive "ought" from "is". Hume was a skeptic, and although he was a complex and dedicated philosopher, he shared a political viewpoint with previous Enlightenment philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) and John Locke (1632–1704). Specifically, Hume, at least to some extent, argued that religious and national hostilities that divided European society were based on unfounded beliefs; in effect, he argued they were not found in nature, but a creation of a particular time and place, and thus unworthy of mortal conflict. Thus Hume is often cited as being the philosopher who finally debunked the idea of nature as a standard for political existence. For instance, without Hume, Jean Jacques Rousseau's (1712–1778) "return" to nature would have not been so revolutionary, inventive and fascinating.

The fact-value distinction is closely related to the naturalistic fallacy, a topic that is still open to debate in ethical and moral philosophy. G.E. Moore believed it was essential to all ethical thinking. However, more recent contemporary philosophers like Phillipa Foot have called into question the validity of such assumptions. Others, such as Ruth Anna Putnam, have argued even the most "scientific" of disciplines are affected by the "values" of the men and women who research and practice the vocation. Nevertheless, the difference between the naturalistic fallacy and the fact-value distinction is derived from the manner in which the fact-value distinction, and not the strict naturalistic fallacy, has been used by modern social science to articulate new fields of study and create academic disciplines.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) in Thus Spoke Zarathustra said that a table of values hangs above every great people. Nietzsche points out that what is common among different peoples is the act of esteeming, of creating values, even if the values are different from one people to the next. Nietzsche asserts that what made people great was not the content of their beliefs, but the act of valuing. Thus the values a community strives to articulate are not as important as the collective will to see those values come to pass. The willing is more essential than the intrinsic worth of the goal itself, according to Nietzsche "A thousand goals have there been so far," says Zarathustra, "for there are a thousand peoples. Only the yoke for the thousand necks is still lacking: the one goal is lacking. Humanity still has no goal." Hence, the title of the aphorism, "On The Thousand And One Goals". The idea that one value-system is no more worthy than the next, although it may not be directly ascribed to Nietzsche, has become a common premise in modern social science. Max Weber and Martin Heidegger absorbed it and made it their own. It shaped their philosophical endeavor, as well as their political understanding.

Lecture notes prepared by Biju P R,Assistant Professor in Political Science,Govt Brennen College Thalassery

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