Re: [sl4] normative language is rational

From: Petter Wingren-Rasmussen (
Date: Fri Feb 13 2009 - 01:28:14 MST

I had to look up deontic logic to even know what it is.
Iīve studied linguistics for about a year though and the definitions of
"normative" varies from discipline to discipline which might cause some

Here is my take according to the linguistic definitions Iīve learned:

1. (The kind you describe) is what plans would make the best possible
outcome in the future, which I find constructive. I wouldīt like to call
this normative language. The actual discussion you describe (which is the
important point) _describes_ probable outcomes for the future. Shouldnt it
be called descriptive then? In linguistics the opposing terms are normative
and descriptive..

2. Describe how things _ought_ to be _right now_ and decide that one way is
right while all others are wrong.
 (ie Itīs vulgar to spell behaviour or armour without a u.
Christians/Moslems are good, moslems/christians/all others are evil.)
Imho normative language(according to my defintion) doesnt have much use
outside of oppression and wartime propaganda.
You might say that the following sentence is normative: "You should use
punctuation, avoid long sentences and start each new sentence with a capital
Writing it in a descriptive way where you show both action and consequence
will be somewhat longer, but less provocative and have a higher chance of
invoking change in the one you're talking to, for example:
"If you dont use punctuation and avoid long sentences, your text will
be more difficult to understand and less people will bother to read it."

On 2/13/09, Johnicholas Hines <> wrote:
> What do we mean by "should"? I'm not a philosopher of deontic logic,
> and I'm not going to try to write down any formalization of the
> concept. I don't think it's necessary or important for the moment.
> If I advocate for some action, like so:
> "I think we should (donate to the Methuselah Foundation's M prize)."
> I think everyone on this list understands, in a commonsense way, what
> I am trying to communicate.
> I hope that everyone also agrees that the future is not written. We
> can build it. Even if there are opposing forces and success is not
> guaranteed, we should strive to a better future.
> Suppose that someone else on the list argues "No, we should not
> (donate to the M prize)." and then I ask "Why shouldn't we?", and they
> respond "(Donating to Friendly AGI research) has a better
> (cost/benefit ratio)." At this point we're engaging in dialog. There
> is communication happening.
> Claiming at this point "Normative language is not falsifiable." shifts
> the topic from (the M prize) to the philosophy of deontic logic. This
> is the red herring fallacy. Regardless of the philosophers, we do have
> a working ability to advocate actions to other people, and understand
> when someone else is advocating an action to us.
> There is NO SPECIAL BONUS for carefully avoiding the words "ought",
> "should" or "moral" in your writing. If you create a rhetorical
> fantasy of a possible future depicting torture and death, readers will
> easily connect the dots and understand the normative message "We
> should strive to avoid this future.". Despite the grammar, you are
> still engaging in normative dialog, and advocating for actions.
> My point is: eschew obfuscation. Use normative grammar to advocate for
> actions.
> Johnicholas

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