What is Normal

11 March 2010

According to the OED, the usual sense of `normal’ is:

2. a. Constituting or conforming to a type or standard; regular, usual, typical; ordinary, conventional.

But do these uses constitute a single sense? It seems that there is nothing very normative about being typical, regular, usual and ordinary; but conforming to a type or standard seems like something one ought to do. We set standards, live up to standards or fail to do so, and the like. The original use of the word `standard', was for battle flags and such, then for weights and measures; then for things more generally; there are standards of comparison, accepted standards; official standards. These generate at least conditional oughts; if you want to submit an article to The Philosophical Review, you should do your best to follow its standards. We can talk of standards for all sorts of things one doesn't aspire to be: the standard idiot. This seems ironic, though.

The word `norm' also seems to have this dual use. Things can return to the norm; this may be good or may be bad. But norms are supposed to be rules, things one ought to follow, at least in appropriate circumstances. Let's legislate a bit, and distinguish between the use of normal as typical, and the normative use.

Now is some cases, one ought to do what people typically do. If people in England typically drive on the left, one ought to drive on the left when in England, however intrinsically absurd that may seem. That's a pretty important ought. If people in England hold the fork in their left hand, perhaps one ought to do that too, although it's not so important. These are both matters of conventions, solutions to a coordination problem, according to David Lewis, although what the problem that holding a fork in one's left hand solves is not terribly apparent. I'm not sure what Lewis said about etiquette. You can look it up.

But in general there seems to be a slide from the typical or average to the normative and required where there is no particular rationale for it. Teenagers, as we know, like to dress like their peers, and so do adults, for that matter. Dressing differently than the people around you usually suggests that you are identifying with a different group as your peer, not ignoring peer-pressure altogether. It seems that what we regard and handsome and beautiful are not what is typical, strictly speaking, but sort of an averaging of the faces and bodies we encounter.

In the areas of physical and mental health, it is often a bit difficult to separate the average and typical side of being normal and the normative, meeting standards side. If my blood pressure is normal, that seems like a good thing; is it that normal means average, and people on the average have a healthy blood-pressure? Or is it that normal means the blood-pressure one has when everything is working the way it should? If a doctor said that virtually everyone has an abnormally high blood-pressure, we'd understand what she was getting at. One the other hand, if I am abnormally short or tall, is there any norm involved, or just what is typical and average? But then peer-pressure, or something along those lines, turns that into a standard, and the whole issue becomes medicalized, so you may be able get your kid treated if it appears he or she is going to be abnormally short or tall.

Abnormal psychology deal with the different, the aberrant, the dysfuctional, people who are different than most of us, so surely not normal in that sense. So is that roughly the same as mental health? An if someone is not mentally healthy, does than mean they have a disease? And how are the norms for mental health related to the norms for clear and logical thinking?

What a mess. Hope we make some progress on it Sunday.

 

Comments (14)


Guest's picture

Guest

Thursday, March 11, 2010 -- 4:00 PM

Normal is a misnomer. To be normal you need to hav

Normal is a misnomer. To be normal you need to have a consensus of people who agree on the ideal. That makes it completely subjective and therefore a wasted pursuit.

Guest's picture

Guest

Thursday, March 11, 2010 -- 4:00 PM

Here in southern Maryland it's "normal" to call yo

Here in southern Maryland it's "normal" to call your pickup truck a "pickum-up truck" and to have an outsized replica of male body parts dangling from the rear bumper. I refuse to do that, so I'm not normal. And yes, your statement about clothing applies, too. I've never adopted the southern Maryland style of wearing six tee-shirts with progressively larger necklines and packs of cigarettes stuffed into your armpits.

Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, March 12, 2010 -- 4:00 PM

Perhaps, the meaning of normal as typical contains

Perhaps, the meaning of normal as typical contains the normative meaning because of the purely empirical fact that people generally behave as they ought to.
So instead of saying "behave as you ought to" we can say "behave as most people do" (i.e. be normal) because most people do behave OK.
If people didn't generally behave as they should, then normal simply wouldn't have a normative meaning.

Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, March 12, 2010 -- 4:00 PM

What is normality? A normal person is whoever conf

What is normality? A normal person is whoever conforms to a paradigm that is accepted by most of people . But it is not true that most of people are normal, so the one who strives to be normal follows a wrong way, the way of the majority. It seems that they are like sheep and no one of them goes out of the flock. So I think the concept of normality has to be searched inside oneself, so that it is normal a person who follows its own way.
The book I have recently written deepens many psychological issues. I want to draw it to your attention, as you may be interested in it. The title is ?Travels of the Mind? and it is available at http://www.strategicpublishinggroup.com/title/TravelsOfTheMind.html
If you have any questions, I am most willing to offer my views on this topic.
Ettore Grillo

Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, March 12, 2010 -- 4:00 PM

I knew I was going to enjoy this article just from

I knew I was going to enjoy this article just from the title. I get so tired of useless labels. I know that people do exist of a particular type but the minute I declare that I have something in common with the polka dot people, folks will extrapolate that I buy or endorse everything they stand for.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, March 13, 2010 -- 4:00 PM

Normal is simply the average mean. Be it good or

Normal is simply the average mean.
Be it good or bad right or wrong,
judgement or measure is uncertain at best.
=
MJA

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, March 30, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

"In the areas of physical and mental health, it is

"In the areas of physical and mental health, it is often a bit difficult to separate the average and typical side of being normal and the normative, meeting standards side.... Abnormal psychology deal with the different, the aberrant, the dysfuctional, people who are different than most of us, so surely not normal in that sense. So is that roughly the same as mental health?"
As your guest stated about the authority that surrounds definite normalcy, it is a dangerous route we would as a country to classify such disorders as normal psy-chosis, when in all fact it is totally circular. In this case, it is semantics, and as the one caller stat-ed, contextual, from which a new logical form must be applied to address this issue.
If one was to apply the Transcendental Logical form, or schema. One would see normalcy as a synthetic because face it the word normal is useful, and constantly being used in daily conversations.

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, March 30, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

As your guest stated about the authority that surr

As your guest stated about the authority that surrounds definite normalcy, it is a dangerous route we as a nation would travel in classifying, such disorders as "normal psychosis", etc., when in all fact it is totally circular. In this case, it is semantics, and as the one caller stated, contextual. So a new logical form must be applied to address this issue.
If one was to apply the Transcendental Logical form, or schema, one would see normalcy as a synthetic because face it, the word 'normal' is useful, and constantly being used in daily conversations.

Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, April 21, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

Very informative post, agree normal is any form th

Very informative post, agree normal is any form that we think and see that is not normal to us.

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, May 23, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

Wow loved reading all your ideas on normal! To me

Wow loved reading all your ideas on normal!
To me, I feel that screew everybody and in this case the "norm" and live your life the way you feel comfortable. Don't conform to the majority as we will all become puppets in a game of reulation, stand up and have your own voice, and dammit be pround!

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, October 17, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

Normalcy is subjective. There are certain standard

Normalcy is subjective. There are certain standards that society sets, and those who reside outside the standards are deemed "abnormal".
Don't bother with what is normal or what isn't; be yourself.
"Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind."

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, October 18, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

YAWN. If you do not have a sense of normalcy, then

YAWN. If you do not have a sense of normalcy, then what do you rely upon? Your own abjectivity? If you/we choose to be your/ourselve(s), to the exclusion of others, what do we become---let's see: anarchist comes to mind---lots of movies about that sorry state---all hopeless and pointless. Ending with, well: nothingness.
Sure. Don't bother with what is normal. Be yourself. Kill people. Do all manner of nasty things. Mind over matter. Go right ahead. And the next time you walk out in front of my car, talking on your cellphone and not looking in either direction, you may be dead for your inattentiveness. I might go to jail. But you will be dead.Or, hurt badly because I chose to brake rather than run you down as you deserved.
I am really tired of popular culture, and people on cellphones who believe they are somehow immune to criticism or harm. Who created this? Guess who.
YAWN.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Tuesday, October 19, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

Cold, isn't he? But consider who created Heisenber

Cold, isn't he? But consider who created Heisenberg and his eyes. You did---you and your self-absorbed, me-ness. How blind can you be---don't you get it? The eighty's are over and you are still trying to keep up with who? The morons the marketeers keep foisting upon you. How's the Ferrari doing for you? Was it really worth it? Oh, sorry---you only have a BMW M5---my mistake

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, December 26, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

Physical and mental health is

Physical and mental health is both same important.A normal person is whoever conforms to a paradigm that is accepted by most of people . But it is not true that most of people are normal, so the one who strives to be normal follows a wrong way, the way of the majority.I know some idea about normal and abnormal stage of your post.I appreciate this informative post.

 
 

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