Normative Characterization in Biological and Cognitive Explanations



Published Jun 20, 2015
Mark Bauer


Normative characterization is a commonplace feature of biological and cognitive explanation. Such lan- guage seems to commit the biological and cognitive sciences to the existence of natural norms, but it is also difficult to understand how such normativity fits into a natural world of physical causes and forces. I propose to map normativity onto systems stabilized by counteractive constraints. Such a mapping, I believe, can explain normativity's causal-explanatory role in biological and cognitive inquiry. The common approach in the literature is to derive an account of natural normativity by way of a particular theory of function. I avoid that approach here and attempt to address directly the sort of physical systems that might satisfy naturalizing criteria for normativity. This has the advantages, I think, of allowing an account of normativity without first having to decide the correct theory of function as well as allowing for the theoretical possibility that normative and functional explanation might come apart within empirical explanation.

How to Cite

Bauer, M. (2015). Normative Characterization in Biological and Cognitive Explanations. THEORIA. An International Journal for Theory, History and Foundations of Science, 30(2), 271–286.
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natural normativity, biological norm, cognitive norm, function, biological explanation