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Just Something I Read

Yesterday I re-introduced some readers to Walter Williams. Mr. Williams is syndicated columnist and professor of economics at George Mason University. He sometimes substitutes for Rush Limbaugh on his radio show. Many people will disregard Professor Williams on that fact alone. that s a shame.

This morning I started reading Professor Williams essays entitled Economics for the Citizen . (I m considering making this mandatory reading for all visitor s of JimFormation.)

In part two of said discussion, Professor Williams introduces the concepts of normative (opinion/subjective) and non-normative (factual/objective) questions and statements. The lesson is worth learning, but I don t want to write about that here. You ve already been told that this is mandatory reading, well, almost-mandatory. So read it yourself.

I just wrote this to pass on a story he tells that I found amusing (because I know you guys aren t going to read what I ve already asked you to read). Professor Williams tells his economic students that he s going to deal with non-normative (factual and objective) economic theory and then instructs them thusly:

I also tell (my economic students) that if they hear me making a normative statement without first saying, In my opinion, they are to raise their hands and say, Professor Williams, we didn t take this class to be indoctrinated with your personal opinions passed off as economic theory; that s academic dishonesty. I also tell them that as soon as they hear me say, In my opinion, they can stop taking notes because my opinion is irrelevant to the subject of the class economic theory.

Oh, if only all professors and teachers would admonish their classes similarly.

But Professor Williams is also a pragmatist. He recommends that his students don t purge their vocubulary from subjective statements. He says, Such statements are useful tools for tricking people into doing what you want them to do.

While reading this over coffee, I laughed out loud. The Wife-beast asked what I was laughing at. I told her. Not laughing she said, You re odd. And put her head down. And continued reading her paper.



ruminator said:

Hey Jim!

I'm going to have to go over and read the professor's comments. I'm intrigued and he seems like a man after my own heart. This sounds like a good find and something I may want to mull over. I also deal with non-normative subject matter, being an engineer. Much of what I teach is factual, but there are opinion and interpretations I need to pass on to my students as well. Much of their lives they will be making judgments (engineering-wise) that will affect the outcome of their projects. Without training this normative processes, they won't know what to do.

The answer isn't always a fact--sometimes it's an opinion.

Posted on Sep 03, 2005 08:02 PM

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