Living agency is subject to a normative dimension (good-bad, adaptive-maladaptive) that is absent from other types of interaction. We review current and historical attempts to naturalize normativity from an organism-centered perspective, identifying two central problems and their solution: (1) How to define the topology of the viability space so as to include a sense of gradation that permits reversible failure, and (2) how to relate both the processes that establish norms and those that result in norm-following behavior. We present a minimal metabolic system that is coupled to a gradient-climbing chemotactic mechanism. Studying the relationship between metabolic dynamics and environmental resource conditions, we identify an emergent viable region and a precarious region where the system tends to die unless environmental conditions change. We introduce the concept of normative field as the change of environmental conditions required to bring the system back to its viable region. Norm-following, or normative action, is defined as the course of behavior whose effect is positively correlated with the normative field. We close with a discussion of the limitations and extensions of our model and some final reflections on the nature of norms and teleology in agency.

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