Normative Approach to Politics

Plato sought to identify the characteristics of a good polity -- a normative approach to politics.
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Political theories attempt to explain the way people think when it comes to politics. One type of political theory is the normative political theory. According to the normative approach to politics, political thought is based on certain ideals and philosophies. In comparison to empirical political theory, which describes politics according to measurable hypotheses, the normative approach is more concerned with philosophical ideas than it is with scientifically studying behaviors.

1 What Is Normative Philosophy?

In normative philosophy, philosophers make statements about the way the world should be, how things should be done, or the way you should think. Normative philosophy also makes recommendations on values, especially when indicating the difference between right and wrong or good and evil.

One example of a normative claim is: Public schools have a positive impact on a democratic society because an educated population is more civically engaged.

2 What Is Normative Political Theory?

Normative political theory takes a page from normative philosophy. In studying politics by the normative approach, political scholars approach questions of political thought and behavior from the standpoint of value judgments, like if an action or thought is right and wrong or good and evil.

With normative political theory, you can determine the right course of action for present political actions. You can also debate politics in the past. For example, in the course of the American Revolution, the patriots dumped tea into the Boston Harbor. This act, which later became known as the Boston Tea Party, may seem like an inviolable piece of American history. But think about it: Were the patriots right to throw the tea in the harbor? Or was trashing that tea technically stealing? These are questions normative political theory might argue by comparing them to similar situations with clearly delineated values of right and wrong.

3 Drawbacks to the Normative Approach

In present political thought, it is difficult to study politics using only the normative approach. Many people might say it sounds like philosophy without substance because it does not interact with the real-world consequences of political actions. It is also difficult to study political situations without empirical evidence. In fact, many would question studies based solely on thought and philosophy.

Readers are more likely to give credence to an argument if it has empirical evidence to back it up. Therefore, any political scientist arguing a normative ideal, at least if they are arguing it to the masses, must present their theory alongside measurable facts in order to sway their audience.

Rebecca Renner is a teacher and freelance writer from Daytona Beach, Florida. Her byline has appeared in the Washington Post, New York Magazine, Glamour and elsewhere.