What is Naturalistic Fallacy Characteristics and examples

Naturalistic Fallacy

The naturalistic fallacy consists of arguing that something should be one way because it is natural or because it is so in nature. Therefore, nature is given a moral authority.

There are two fundamental ideas in this type of fallacy. On the one hand, that what is natural has to be true, and that if we find behavior in nature, it should be acceptable to human beings. On the other hand, he argues that because something is in such a way, it should be so, that is, we should accept things as they are.

For example, when it was said that women should stay at home because that was “natural” there was a naturalistic fallacy, because what was practiced by tradition was confused with “what is good” and “desirable”.

Affirming that “what is natural” is “what is good” is an ethical evaluation that has no foundation because evaluative conclusions -that is, value judgments- cannot be deduced from the descriptions of something. Therefore, if something is good then it will be, according to this fallacy, “good”.

Characteristics of the naturalistic fallacy

moral equals natural

In the naturalistic fallacy moral values ​​are confused with natural ones. For example, when homosexuality is attacked by saying that it is immoral (that is, contrary to what is natural, to “what is good”) because it is unnatural.

The values ​​of the natural (which are also social values ​​according to the norms dictated for a certain moment by a certain society) derive, in this way, in moral values, falsely based on a practice that associates a property of “good” and applies it everything, turning it into “the good”.

However, for the naturalistic fallacy to exist, that property of good must always accompany the object that is described as “the good.” That is, just because something is natural is not necessarily going to be good.

Confusion in the concept of “good”

To say that something is good implies knowing in advance what “good” is. From reason, which is what interests philosophical study, equating a property with the object is not explaining the concept.

They are extensive answers –that is, go to examples to give an explanation– and never intensive –explain what the meaning is

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It is a problem of metaethics, which is a branch of ethics that is responsible for studying the origin and meaning of ethical concepts, morality or the existence of moral values ​​independently of human values .

“The good” is also “the desired”

The naturalistic fallacy maintains that one can reach ethical conclusions and maintain that something is desirable through non-ethical conclusions: thus, if that something is good from the psychological, or metaphysical, or will study, then it will necessarily be considered “good” in general.

In clearer words, if it is considered a “desirable” behavior from the point of view of tradition, for example, then that behavior will be good.

Hume’s naturalistic fallacy

David Hume’s naturalistic fallacy, also called Hume’s Law, Hume’s Guillotine or Problem of being and should be (and sometimes confused with the naturalistic fallacy) refers to the metaethical problem that alludes to the impossibility of deducing a norm from from descriptions.

A description says something about an object (“human beings are selfish”) and a standard states what it should be (“human beings should be selfish”).

To affirm the truth about the first premise, a historical study that investigates human egoism may be worth it. But to affirm the second, other paths must be sought, because this truth cannot be deduced from descriptive premises.

What is and what should be are not the same, and Hume’s dichotomy is linked to the analysis/synthesis dichotomy. For the Scottish philosopher, an analytical (logical) proposition is always true and does not need to be verified, but the synthetic proposition must be verified with experience (that is, empirically), and it can be true or false. For Hume, the ethical proposition comes from experience.

Let’s see a classic example in the following two sentences:

  • Nero is cruel.
  • Nero must be cruel.

The first sentence is descriptive because it tells what Nero is like , but the second sentence is normative because it states what Nero should be like.

Just because Nero is cruel doesn’t mean he has to be. You can see the great difference between the two, and the impossibility (from logic) of deducing the normative sentence from the descriptive sentence.

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This “problem of being and ought to be” was exposed by David Hume in his Treatise on Human Nature (1739-40) and establishes that normative premises (must or should not) have a different logical structure from factual or descriptive premises. fact (is or is not).

When you want to deduce a normative premise from a factual premise, says Hume, you are dealing with a fallacious argument, that is, it can be convincing, but from the logical point of view it is incorrect.

Before Hume, moral philosophers had not recognized this difference: it was not a problem for them. It is from Hume, and especially from the analytical thinkers of the mid-twentieth century who take up the passage of the English philosopher, when the complexity of being and ought to be and the insurmountable difference that exists between the two is established.

Examples of naturalistic fallacy

Here are some examples of this type of fallacy:

condemnation of homosexuality

We have already seen that the naturalistic fallacy is an erroneous argument when it comes to ethical arguments. A clear example is the one mentioned at the beginning regarding homosexuality.

Homosexuality has been considered for many centuries to be “deviant” and “unnatural” behavior. However, when describing it in this way, a fallacious argument is being used, since due to its “unnaturalness” it is not good or desirable.

But that “unnaturalness” is not natural either, it is a behavior that society has condemned based on values ​​and moral judgments, which are not necessarily natural, desirable, or good.

What is moral here is deduced from a concrete reality about what should be correct, since it is being affirmed that “what is natural” should be “what is good”.

Justification of slavery. And by extension, the idea of ​​superior and inferior races

Since Antiquity, slavery was considered not only a normal and morally accepted practice, but also necessary from an economic point of view. Manpower was required to build the cities and maintain the economy of the empires.

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The slaves came from the subject towns and to a lesser extent, they were men who did not pay their debts (women rarely owned property, so their status as slaves came from being from the subject towns, or as payment of debts).

Slavery was seen as something normal, even moral, and entailed the right of one people to subdue another based on their strength or a supposed cultural superiority. The right to property took precedence over other individual rights (the right of the master over the slave).

The submission of a group of people to others was thus normalized, and was therefore seen as something natural; slavery was something that belonged to the sphere of “should be” because it was an ancient behavior. To go against slavery was to go against tradition and the norm.

Although slavery was abolished in a large part of the world at the end of the 19th century, the idea has remained in the collective imagination that there are groups of people who, due to their skin color, their religion or their cultural practices, are considered, even today, as inferiors.

This inferiority, according to some, “is natural” and therefore “good” in the sense that when there are inferior people, there are automatically superior people, whose superiority will be “natural” and “good” because tradition dictates it.

We are facing a naturalistic fallacy of the most classic.

Other examples

  • Tigers are meat, so vegetarians must be wrong.
  • According to the theory of evolution, the best species survive. Therefore, if the poor do not prosper and survive, it means that they are not fit.
  • There have always been wars, so there is no reason to avoid attacking and bombing that country.
  • In nature there is nudity, therefore we should be naked.

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