What Is a Normative Question?

A normative question is one that asks “what should be” rather than one that is designed to determine an objective outcome or condition, such as “how much” or “yes” or “no.” The purpose of a normative question is to define what is best in a given situation. For example, a question that seeks to determine what the unemployment rate is in Colorado is not a normative question, but a question that asks what the unemployment rate in Colorado should be is a normative question.

Normative questions are often used to promote normative arguments in public forums or political debates. A normative argument is an argument presented for the sake of bringing about a specific change, action or social outcome. The answers obtained through positive questions, such as those that can be answered by “yes,” “no” or a specific amount, are often used to support the normative argument for change. Positive questions provide a basis of comparison consisting of “what is” to the “what should be” that is determined by the response to the relevant normative question.