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This paper concerns epistemological rationalism and the norms used by governments to instruct their officers to perform their duties. The particular duty I discuss here is preparation of and action on the budget. In this paper I use "rationalism" as the opposite of "empiricism." This rationalism does not refer to "'economic rationality," it refers to the method of attaining knowledge associated with introspection, logic, and a priori knowledge. It is opposed to the method of attaining knowledge associated with observation, experiment, and evidence. By "norms, “normative," and other related terms, I mean action guiding language. Four senses of normative are defined later in this paper. Government officers find much of what they do specified or limited by action guiding language. Much of this language is narrow and technical in nature, consisting of regulations, SOP's, manuals, precedents, and performance plans. These norms arc often concrete and specific. This paper examines where such norms fit in the landscape of rationalism and empiricism, and identifies a source of confusion that can lead to poorly constructed norms. A model of thinking is developed. The model is then applied to budget norms, that is to the processes, formats, and techniques urged on, or demanded of, budget participants, primarily those who put the budget together. There is a question to resolve: Is the process of formulating budget guidelines empirical or rationalistic?


This paper was originally published in an electronic conference proceedings following a March 1997 conference.



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