What is Naturalism?

  • Popularity grew during the 19th Century
  • Concerned with the meaning of ethical language
  • Ethical words such as 'good' or 'bad' can be found in the empirical world and nature (in our independent reality)
  • Results in moral realism- 'the metaethical view that there exist moral facts'
  • Ethical statements can have an objective reality
  • 'Good' can be: Moral judgments are uniform and universal as they are grounding in the objective truth of the world around us through cognitivist observation
    • independent from human opinion
    • verified or falsified depending on left emotions (similarly to science)
    • observable
    • intrinsic to certain items/ actions
  • Moral judgments are uniform and universal as they are grounding in the objective truth of the world around us through cognitivist observation
  • A metaphysical theory- an examination of the true nature of reality
  • Ethical statements can be translated into verified factual statements
    • e.g. 'Stalin was an evil man'
    • This can be proved true because by looking at his actions we can determine that he was evil
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F.H. Bradley

  • Francis Herbert Bradley (1846-1924) was a British idealist philosopher who attended Oxford and was elected to a fellowship at Merton College
  • His books, 'Ethical Studies' (1876) and 'My Station and its Duties', contributed to the theory of ethical naturalism as he openly rejected Utilitarianism and Kantian Ethics
  • "Ethical Statements must be proved true or false"
  • Morality rests through "self-realisation, duty and happiness in one" as we live under our society's moral traditions
  • Ethical properties "when we have found our station and its duties, our function is as an organ in a social organism"
  • Our role in society is to recognise our true self by adopting our community's values
  • Moral judgments involve a reference to what is real in the empirical world
  • Through cognitivism, we can objectively test moral statements
    • e.g. 'Honesty is good' actually means 'honesty can help me realise my true potential and place in society'
  • Ethical statements express facts about the world, our position in society, and our moral duty
  • Words such as 'good' or 'bad' rest on certain prepositions (a statement or assertion that expresses a judgment) that can be presented as true or false
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Other Supporters of Naturalism

T. H. Green (1836-1882 English Philosopher and Idealist), and Mary Warnock (English Philosopher)

  • Similarly to Bradley, was influenced by G. W. F. Hegel
  • Looked into the obligation of roles that constitutes our identities
  • Looked at morality
  • Stated that we have a "definite place in society"

Broad (20th Century Epistemologist, Naturalist, and historian of moral philosophy)

  • "If naturalism be true, ethics is not an autonomous science; it is a department or an application of one or more of the natural historical sciences"
  • Moral facts are facts of nature

Jacobs IEP

  • "If something is claimed to exist but is not described in the vocabulary that describes natural phenomena, it is not something we should describe as real"
  • All actions can be judged naturally as the only thing that matters is 'natural order' which can have a universal application
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Hume's Law (Criticism)

  • David Hume (1711-1776, Age of Enlightenment, and a criticism of many ethical debates)
  • 'A Treatise of Human Nature' and the 'Is/ Ought' problem
  • What we observe in the natural world (facts/ is statements) give us a picture of what the world is like
  • However, we cannot infer what the world ought to be like
  • There are numerous facts about the world, used to conclude what we ought or ought not to do
  • The error is that there is nothing in the premises that necessitates the conclusion
  • Ought is prescriptive and comes from our feelings
  • It is not a moral fact
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Other Criticisms of Naturalism

G.E. Moore (1873-1958 and an Intuitionist)

  • In 'Principa Ethica', Moore claimed that there is an error in defining an ethical property in the same way as a natural one
  • Good, like yellow, is 'sui generis' (unique) and cannot be broken down into constituent parts for definition
  • We may define a horse according to its four legs, mane and hooves, but this cannot be done for defining goodness as happiness, virtue or natural
  • Ethical naturalists conflate natural and moral properties and by using a non-moral premise to establish a moral conclusion is an error or fallacy
    • e.g. 'a baby is born, I feel happy, so I state that we ought to have more babies'

The Open Question Argument

  • A closed question can be settled easily with defining terms but in an open question one cannot
  • In an open question, the answer cannot be deduced from the premise
  • Attempts to conflate morality with a natural property will always produce an open question, but a definition should produce a closed question
    • e.g. Premise: 'What is natural is good?', Open Question: 'Yes, but is it good?'
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