DESCRIPTIVE, SPECULATIVE AND NORMATIVE THOUGHT
We can think about the world as it is (was/will be), as
it can be, or as it should be.
If, and insofar as, our
factual thought is merely a matter of
observation or empirical experience, it is descriptive.
Such 'descriptive' thought, however, may also concern
modal conditions rather than factual ones,
especially when it is stated that something is possible.
In the case of thought about modal conditions it would be better to use
the term speculative, or some such term, to denote that the
process of thinking is not based on mere observation or actual sense
experience and that it is inconclusive in the factual sphere.
Of course, one can also 'speculate' about facts and norms but the meaning
of to speculate is then simply that of to think.
unequivocally refers to thought about norms and/or values, that is,
thought about the world as it should be.
The belief about what is possible or probable is a form of
speculative (modal) thought, and the belief about what is good
or superior a form of normative thought.
Now, modal conditions —we have assumed— are entirely
independent of normative conditions, and yet this does not mean that the
belief in what can be is not determined by the belief in what
Especially the belief in what cannot be, or is highly improbable,
is but too often a mere expression of the lack of belief
in what should be (and, similarly, the belief in what can
be a mere expression of faith in what should be). But these
facts are not facts of the same level as the modal and normative
conditions the belief is about; they are facts of speculative
and of normative
propositional attitudes themselves. Obviously
there are different levels on which facts,
modes and norms are operative.
Let us use the word ground to designate the zero-level of the
Nonpropositional reality is, then, the ground-level on which we live
ourselves, at least as biological beings.
Factual, modal and normative conditions on
this level are 'ground-facts', 'ground-modes' and
'ground-norms' or 'factual', 'modal' and 'normative
ground-conditions'. Thus, it is descriptive thought about the
nonpropositional world in which we live which yields the ground-facts
(if the propositions are true). In such thought the ground-world is
described as it actually is. Speculative (and statistical) theories
about the ground-world which show that states of affairs are impossible,
improbable, neither improbable nor probable, probable
or necessary yield the ground-modes (if true).
And normative theories about the ground-world, if true or
correct, supply us with the ground-norms or
ground-values of this world.
On the first propositional level, descriptive (factual),
speculative (modal) and normative theories are themselves
objects of descriptive, speculative and normative thought on the
second propositional level. A descriptive theory is, then,
thus and so, can be thus and so, or should be thus
and so. This applies equally to speculative and normative theories.
That a descriptive theory about the ground-world is thus and so is, then,
a first-order fact, whereas the proposition that it is thus
and so is a second-order proposition. Similarly, it is a
first-order fact that a normative theory has a certain characteristic,
whereas the proposition that it has this characteristic is of the second
The first-order facts of descriptive, speculative (or statistical)
and normative theories about the ground-world are first-order
facts of thought or 'first-order propositional facts'.
Their first-order modes are, similarly, first-order modes of
thought, and their first-order norms, first-order norms of
thought. But the object of second-order theories is not only
first-order theories. It is also the relationship between the
ground-world and these first-order theories.
If, and when, such a relationship exists, we call it
"correspondence" (between the ground-world
and a theory about the ground-world).
The fact pertaining to this relationship is neither a ground-fact nor a
first-order fact of thought as defined above.
We may call it "a first-order fact of correspondence".
In the same way there are one or more first-order modes
and norms of correspondence.
The combination of propositional hierarchy and the division of reality into
a factual, a modal and a normative sphere leads
to quite a complicated, but systematic, conceptual structure. It
leaves us with interesting questions we cannot treat here. One
is whether all norms of descriptive, speculative and normative
thought are the same, and another whether the first-order norms
of thought and of correspondence are the same as the second- and
higher-order norms of thought and of correspondence. If so, we
need only speak of "the norms of thought and of correspondence".
(One may also speak of "principles".) Yet, these
questions do not concern our ultimate conceptual framework but
rather the content of norms or principles. At this stage we
will not yet argue for any particular substantive norm or
principle, let alone for the universal scope of such a norm or
principle. Nevertheless, we cannot refrain from taking a look at
the normative principles which remain implicit in thought which
is purportedly purely factual, empirical or descriptive.