Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Naturalistic Fallacy

The media is full of the glorification of nature. You see it in granola commercials. You see it in all kinds of hippie drippy advertising campaigns. You see middle-class liberals reveling in its splendor. Nature can be beautiful. Nature can be terrible. Nature can both.

Not everything in nature is worthy of praise. Using nature as the end all and be all--that's the naturalistic fallacy.

The naturalistic fallacy occurs when a debater asserts that something is "good" merely, because it is natural. In fact, an early 20th century philosopher named G.E. Moore argued that the fallacy existed because the idea of "good" itself was incapable of definition. If we cannot pin down what constitutes "good", how can we pin down "natural" things as automatically being "good" things?

Which brings us to Alan Gerwith's principle of generic consistency, which basically says that for something to be valid, it must be generically consistently valid in every instant. So, if we're going to make the blanket statement that natural things are good things, it must be true in every instant for the statement to be valid. It's evident that natural things are not always good things, which means that it fails the principle of generic consistency's test and as such, cannot be made as a blanket statement.

An example of a natural thing not being necessarily "good":
Forest fires are sometimes natural (i.e. stemming from a natural source such as lightning for instance). For the animals and people living in the forest that starts on fire, forest fires are not good things. They are natural, but they are not necessarily good, because they destroy things that are benefits to those creatures (i.e. for people homes and for animals habitats). Sometimes, the forest fire is good for the forest, because small fires can allow more light into the canopy. Still, the forest fires are not good for those nearby inhabitants due to their destructive nature. Hence the goodness is "relative" to the position of the actor and cannot be said to be absolute. This brings us back to G.E. Moore's point about good being "indefinable.".

The naturalistic argument is also problematic, because who draws the line between natural and un-natural? Everything on the planet is made from something that can be traced back to nature originally. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed, so we use what nature has provided us. How is a car "unnatural" but a tree is "natural"? Who draws the lines in the sand here?

My point is that we should be suspicious of absolutist arguments that insist that nature is the end-all and be-all of goodness. Instead, we should look at the benefits or detriments of a particular thing or action. We should try to consider the positions of various actors and the benefits or detriments they may or may not incur. We may or may not be able to find a solution that's "good" for every single actor after making these assessments, but at least we avoid the fallacy that occurs when people insist on making blanket assessments of complex issues.

Why are people so eager to use absolute standards such as nature? It's the exact same reason people believe in stupid things like religion. The world is less scary and chaotic when there are absolutes.

No comments:

Post a Comment