Causal Explanations vs Normative Explanations

If somebody asks you why, there are often two markedly different kinds of explanations you could give.

Their differences are psychological & social in addition to being semantic.

Two kinds of Why

“everything is the way it is because it got that way”
— D’Arcy Thompson

I run a software company, and sometimes users will email me asking, “Why is feature X like this? It should be like that.”

My response, which I don’t necessarily write out: if you want to know “why feature X is like this”, well… I could tell you the long history of how Complice mutated its way to being what it is today, which would contain a causal explanation for why the feature is the way it is.

…however, if you’re looking for not a causal explanation, but rather a normative explanation, or justification of “why it makes sense for feature X to be like this”, then I don’t really have one. I basically agree with you. All I have to offer is that it would be work to change it. And that I probably will at some point but it hasn’t been a priority yet.

We might say that causal explanations explain “why [proposition] is true” whereas normative explanations explain “why [[proposition] is true] is ‘reasonable,’ or ‘acceptable.'”

I think we want to be a little wary of the second kind of explanatory process. » read the rest of this entry »

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I'm Malcolm Ocean.

I'm trying to figure out how humans work so I can help make humanity work. More about me.

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