Philosophy 141 - 8.1.1 Descriptive vs. Evaluative Claims

One way to think about the difference between facts and values is through the different types of claims you can make about them. People talk about facts using descriptive claims and values using evaluative claims. Descriptive claims are statements about matters of fact, whereas evaluative claims express a judgment about something’s value.

Descriptive Claims: How the World Is

Descriptive claims make statements about how the world is. They describe the facts of something, what you observe to be the case without any form of evaluation or judgment. For example, “the weather today is sunny” is a descriptive claim because it simply describes what someone observes.

Evaluative Claims: How the World Ought to Be

Evaluative claims make statements about how the world ought to be. They express judgments of value: what is good, just, fair, beautiful, healthy, important, etc. Instead of simply describing, evaluative claims interpret facts or assert what should be the case.

Evaluative claims can be prescriptive—that is, they state what should be the case or what people ought to do in a given situation. For example, “I should go outside to get some sunshine” is an evaluative claim. It is based on a descriptive claim (“the weather today is sunny”), but it interprets this fact and ascribes a value to it (“sunshine is good for mental health”) in a way that prescribes an action (“I should go outside”). When people make evaluations about the goodness of something, it implies that they should do it. Evaluations are thus connected to actions and choices.

Sometimes people struggle to distinguish between facts and values and mistakenly think an evaluative statement is simply a positive claim about the way things are. As the next section will describe, this mistake is a type of fallacy.

Think Like a Philosopher

Determine whether the statements below are evaluative or descriptive. Propose a descriptive statement and a value statement that form the basis of each statement that you identify as evaluative.

  1. You should wear a scarf and mittens to keep warm.
  2. People visit Athens to explore the remains of the ancient city.
  3. Tomatoes contain vitamin C, which can boost your immune system.
  4. The city needs to build more parks where residents can walk, jog, and exercise.

The content of this course has been taken from the free Philosophy textbook by Openstax