Mechanism of Norm Employment

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How do norms become employed by an epistemic agent?

As norms of any type - methods, ethical norms, aesthetic norms, etc. - can change through time, it is important to inquire as to how exactly they change. A proper answer to this question helps to shed light on one of the key aspects of the mechanism of scientific change.

In the scientonomic context, this question was first formulated by William Rawleigh in 2022. The question is currently accepted as a legitimate topic for discussion by Scientonomy community.

In Scientonomy, the accepted answer to the question is:

  • A method becomes employed only when it is deducible from some subset of other employed methods and accepted theories of the time.

Broader History

One aspect of the question of the mechanism of norm employment - that of method employment has been addressed by a number of philosophers of science before the inception of scientonomy. Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend, Dudley Shapere, Larry Laudan, and Ernan McMullin all suggested that our theories about the world shape our methods of theory evaluation.

Thomas Kuhn can be credited by articulating this idea first in his Structure as part of his conception of paradigm shifts.1

Dudley Shapere greatly developed the idea of beliefs affecting methods of theory evaluation in his The Character of Scientific Change, where he argued that the criteria scientists employ in theory assessment are not transcendent to science but are an integral part of it.2

Similarly, in his Science and Values, Larry Laudan argued that the discovery of previously unaccounted effects (such as placebo effect or experimenter's bias) resulted in the formulation of new methods of drug testing.3pp. 38-39

The same idea has been expressed around the same time by Ernan McMullin. In his account of the transition from the Aristotelian Medieval method to the hypothetico-deductive method in the early 18th century, McMullin shows that the employment of the hypothetico-deductivism was a result of accepting that the world is more complex than it appears in our observations.4pp. 32-34

There have been many other attempts at explaining how methods of theory evaluation come to be employed by a community (e.g. the reconstructions of Plato’s method performed by David Lindberg5pp. 37-38).

Barry Barnes, David Bloor, Bruno Latour, Steve Woolgar and other have suggested that methods of science are determined to a large degree by the underlying sociocultural factors.67

Paul Feyerabend went as far as to argue that in many cases methods are chosen in an arbitrary fashion.8

Scientonomic History

Norms only became part of the scientonomic ontology in 2017 with the acceptance of Sebastien's modification that introduced normative theories one of as types of theory. With the acceptance of Barseghyan's redrafted ontology in 2019, methods became subsumed under the category of normative theory and employment became a stance that epistemic agents could take towards norms of all types, not just methods. This should have suggested the question of the mechanism of norm employment; yet, as formulating questions is often a creative process, it wasn't until Rawleigh's 2022 paper that the question was explicitly formulated, together with a formulation of an answer to it - the law of norm employment.

Acceptance Record

Here is the complete acceptance record of this question (it includes all the instances when the question was accepted as a legitimate topic for discussion by a community):
CommunityAccepted FromAcceptance IndicatorsStill AcceptedAccepted UntilRejection Indicators
Scientonomy28 February 2022This is the date of the publication of the collected volume that included Rawleigh's paper, which indicates that the question is itself came to be considered legitimate.Yes

All Theories

The following theories have attempted to answer this question:
TheoryFormulationFormulated In
The Law of Norm Employment (Rawleigh-2022)A norm becomes employed only if it is derivable from a non-empty subset of other elements of the mosaic.2022

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Accepted Theories

According to our records, no theory on this topic has ever been accepted.

Suggested Modifications

Here is a list of modifications concerning this topic:
Modification Community Date Suggested Summary Verdict Verdict Rationale Date Assessed
Sciento-2022-0002 Scientonomy 28 February 2022 Accept the new law of norm employment that fixes some of the issues of the current law of method employment and makes it applicable to norms of all types. Open

Current View

In Scientonomy, the accepted answer to the question is The Third Law (Sebastien-2016).

Mechanism of Method Employment

The Third Law (Sebastien-2016) states: "A method becomes employed only when it is deducible from some subset of other employed methods and accepted theories of the time."

The Third Law Sebastien 2016.png

The initial formulation of the law, proposed by Barseghyan in The Laws of Scientific Change, stated that a method becomes employed only when it is deducible from other employed methods and accepted theories of the time.9p.132 In that formulation, it wasn't clear whether employed methods follow from all or only some of the accepted theories and employed methods of the time. This led to a logical paradox which this reformulation attempts to solve.10

This reformulation of the law makes explicit that an employed method need not necessarily follow from all other employed methods and accepted theories but only from some of them. This made it possible for an employed method to be logically inconsistent and yet compatible with openly accepted methodological dicta.

In all other respects, this formulation preserves the gist of Barseghyan's original formulation. According to the third law, a method becomes employed when:

  1. it strictly follows from some subset of other employed methods and accepted theories, or
  2. it implements some abstract requirements of other employed methods.

This restates Barseghyan's original suggestion that accepted theories shape the set of implicit criteria employed in theory assessment. When a new theory is accepted, this often leads to the employment of an abstract requirement to take that new theory into account when testing relevant contender theories. This abstract requirement is then specified by a new employed method.

The evolution of the drug trial methods is an example of the third law in action. For example, the discovery of the placebo effect in drug testing demonstrates that fake treatment can cause improvement in patient symptoms. As a result of its discovery the abstract requirement of “when assessing a drug’s efficacy, the possible placebo effect must be taken into account” was generated. This abstract requirement is, by definition, an accepted theory which stipulates that, if ignored, substantial doubt would be cast on any trial. As a result of this new theory, the Single-Blind Trial method was devised. The currently employed method in drug testing is the Double-Blind Trial, a method which specifies all of the abstract requirements of its predecessors. It is an apt illustration of how new methods are generated through the acceptance of new theories, as well as how new methods employ the abstract requirements of their predecessors.9pp. 132-152

In Barseghyan’s explication of the Aristotelian-Medieval method, he illustrates how Aristotelian natural philosophy impacted the method of the time. One of the key features of the Aristotelian-scholastic method was the requirement of intuition schooled by experience, i.e. that a proposition is acceptable if it grasps the nature of a thing though intuition schooled by experience. The requirement itself was a deductive consequence of several assumptions accepted at the time. One of the assumptions underlying this requirement was the idea that every natural thing has a nature, a substantial quality that makes a thing what it is (e.g. a human's nature is their capacity of reason). Another assumption underlying the requirement was the idea that nature of a thing can be grasped intuitively by those who are most experienced with the things of that type. The requirements of the intuitive truth followed from these assumptions. The scholastic-Aristotelians scholars wouldn’t require intuitive truths grasped by an experienced person if they didn’t believe that things have natures that could be grasped intuitively by experts.

The third law has also proven useful in explicating such requirements as Confirmed Novel Predictions (CNP). According to the hypothetico-deductive method, a theory which challenges our accepted ontology must provide CNP in order to become accepted. However, the history of CNP has been a point of confusion for some time. By the Third Law, one can show that the requirement of CNP has not always been expected of new theories. When Newton published his Principia, CNP were not a requirement of his professed method, yet they were still provided. On the other hand, Clark’s law of diminishing returns had no such predictions. This is because Newton’s proposal of unobservable entities, such as gravity and absolute space, challenged the accepted ontology of the time, while Clark’s simply accounted for the data already available. Thus, in utilizing the Third Law, one can discover both when certain criteria become an implicit rule and under what conditions they are necessary.

Related Topics

This question is a subquestion of Mechanism of Scientific Change. It has the following sub-topic(s):

This topic is also related to the following topic(s):


  1. ^  Kuhn, Thomas. (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press.
  2. ^  Shapere, Dudley. (1980) The Character of Scientific Change. In Nickles (Ed.) (1980), 61-116.
  3. ^  Laudan, Larry. (1984) Science and Values. University of California Press.
  4. ^  McMullin, Ernan. (1988) The Shaping of Scientific Rationality: Construction and Constraint. In McMullin (Ed.) (1988), 1-47.
  5. ^  Lindberg, David. (2007) The Beginnings of Western Science. The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, Prehistory to A.D. 1450, Second Edition. University Of Chicago Press.
  6. ^  Latour, Bruno and Woolgar, Steve. (1979) Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. Princeton University Press.
  7. ^  Barnes, Barry; Bloor, David and Henry, John. (1996) Scientific Knowledge: A Sociological Analysis. University of Chicago Press.
  8. ^  Feyerabend, Paul. (1975) Against Method. New Left Books.
  9. a b  Barseghyan, Hakob. (2015) The Laws of Scientific Change. Springer.
  10. ^  Sebastien, Zoe. (2016) The Status of Normative Propositions in the Theory of Scientific Change. Scientonomy 1, 1-9. Retrieved from