The Naturalist Fallacy ; Or, Bad Reasoning in the Real World part 11

10959776_837946422931632_7410676636479577840_nAh, elections, they’re a great time for philosophy bloggers. So much nonsense from people desperate to gain or maintain a position of power by what ever short hand manipulation they see fit. This from Member of the Legislative Council Fred Nile is a classic in this regard. Never mind that equality is a christian ideal (Matthew 7:12, Romans 2:11, Mark 12:31 for example*) and this is the leader of of the supposed Christian Democratic Party (it’s right there in the name!), the deepest mistake here is what we like to call the Naturalist Fallacy.

The Naturalist Fallacy is the claim that what is good or right follows in a straight forward manner from what is natural. That is, that we ought to do what is natural. We see this in the post from Nile in his derision of equality as a social construct and thus not natural and thus inequality is to be preferred. Now, I want to focus on the Naturalist fallacy here, but I can’t resist pointing out an irony and factual error. First the irony: Nile has gained his power through the church and parliament, both social constructs, so unless he thinks there’s something wrong with his power it’s hard to see what he has against them! The factual error: social constructs are natural, human’s (not eagles granted) naturally live in societies, it’s part of what we are. So it is natural for us to make social constructs.

Nonetheless, it is clear enough (if you wade through the BS) what Nile is advocating here and that is a form of social Darwinism (with standard apologies to Darwin for the name). That is, that the strong should dominate the weak, because this is more natural than the social construct of equality. Even if we leave aside the mistake about the naturalness of social constructs a very basic mistake means that we oughtn’t be convinced by Nile’s argument.

That mistake is the Naturalist Fallacy, or the assumption that what we ought to do (what is good or right) follows from what is natural. Nothing follows about what is the right thing to do from what is natural, because nature is neither good nor bad, it is amoral we might say. This can be seen from some simple examples. Which of these is good, which of them is bad?:


Flushing toilets.

straight forwardly cancer is bad, and flushing toilets are good, much of our modern society depends on flushing toilets after all and like many of you I have lost multiple relatives to cancer and assert that there is nothing in any way good about that. Yet by any standards cancer is natural and flushing toilets are artifacts. So by the standards Nile is advocating we ought to like cancer and hate flushing toilets, indeed we should let people die of cancer (when they get it ‘naturally’) and dismantle all our toilets.This is obviously absurd. The general problem is that natural things can be both good and bad, in some if we look at the whole of nature we see, as Gerard O’Brien so powerfully puts it, nothing but pure and utter indifference. So, it cannot be the case that simply because something is natural we ought to do it, that it is right.

As a point of clarity, the above does imply that there is a fuzzy dividing line between natural and artificial, but if we’re not going to call technologies like toilets artifacts then we may as well do away with the word entirely. If we did this then the Naturalist Fallacy would still be a fallacy because everything would be natural so if natural implied good then everything would be good. Obviously there are some bad things (torture for example) so not everything is good.

So please, don’t be fooled into thinking that we ought to let the strong dominate the weak because it’s natural. Nature doesn’t care, but you should.

with love,


* — with thanks to Denise Abou Hamad for doing the research


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