Normative/Descriptive Statements, Answer Sheet

Consider whether the following are normative or descriptive statements.

1. I enjoyed the movie immensely. Descriptive. The statement reports an emotional reaction.
2. The failure of Company X to warn the public of their defective product, when they knew about the defect, ultimately did harm to many consumers. Descriptive. The statement claims (1) that employees of Company X knew of a defect in their product, and (2) that the failure to inform the public of the defect resulted in harm to consumers. Although these two factual claims can be the basis for the argument that employees of Company X (or the Company itself, if collectively held responsible) did something morally wrong, this normative claim is not made in the statement itself.
3. The failure of the physician to do a thorough examination of the patient was inexcusable. Normative. The statement condemns the actions of the physician.
4. An individual who is in a coma due to brain trauma is still a person whose rights must be respected. Normative. The noun "person" is used in a normative sense here: a person is someone who has moral rights. This statement claims that a persistent unconscious state in a patient does not annul the patient's basic rights.
5. Citizens of the United States value their liberty above all other values. Descriptive. This statement reports an attitude shared in common by citizens of the United States, but doesn't evaluate that attitude--the statement neither endorses nor condemns it.
6. Telling other people the truth will allow them to make informed decisions. Descriptive. This statement makes a prediction concerning the factual consequences of honesty.
7. There is at least no doubt about one thing--had the officials at NASA called off the flight of the space shuttle Challenger, the astronauts would not have been killed. Descriptive. This statement might be made in support of the claim that the officials at NASA were wrong not to abort the flight of Challenger, but this statement does not make that normative claim. Rather, it states a factual claim concerning what the results would have been if NASA officials had aborted the flight.
8. If this bill is passed, the lives of many poor people in our country will be immensely improved. Normative. Although this is a prediction, the prediction is evaluative--it makes a claim concerning the quality of poor people's lives in the future if the particular bill is passed.
9. The failure of the financial advisor to fully inform the investor of the risks of investing in the stock of Company Y violated his/her legal obligations to the investor. Descriptive. This statement makes the factual claim that financial advisor broke the law. No normative claim concerning whether this violation of law was right or wrong is made.
10. Do no harm to others! This is admittedly a trick question (I won't do this on a test!). This is neither a normative nor a descriptive statement simply because it is not a statement at all, but an imperative or command--the sentence commands people not to harm others. Although moral reasoning would be the most common reason for offering this imperative, the imperative itself makes no moral claim.
11. This music is complex--a wonderfully rich tapestry of harmonious themes. Descriptive and normative. The adjective "complex" describes the music (complex music might be either good or bad--this description doesn't evaluate the worth of the music). But the following phrase "a wonderfully rich tapestry of harmonious themes" makes a claim concerning the value of the music.
12. The Constitution of the United States guarantees every adult U.S. citizen the right to vote. Descriptive. This describes the provisions of the Constitution; no normative judgment is offered.

 

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