Naturalism: Background

  • the belief that the source of all knowledge, including ethical knowledge is the empirical natural world around us 
  • it teaches that there is nothing outside our senses that can be studied to help us understand ethical language, for example, there is no God to guide humanity on the meaning of ethical language 
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Explanation of naturalism

  • ethical naturalists believe that ethical language terms, like good and bad are used to illustrate ethical facts
  • for example, knowledge gained from verifying ethical propositions with empirical evidence from the natural world 
  • therefore, X is good because it can be verified with empirical evidence 
  • there can be non-ethical and ethical propositions.
  • a non-ethical proposition would be - ' water is made up of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen
  • an ethical proposition would be - 'Hitler was a bad person
  • However, an ethical proposition can be proven with evidence as we associate Hitler with the mass murder of Jews 
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Naturalism 8 points

  • realism= the view that what your senses detect is an independent reality and not just a part of your own mind 
  • objective= they are independent of human emotion 
  • universal= they apply to everyone in the same way 
  • cognitive
  • false propositions
  • is/ought
  • influence on rule utilitarianism 
  • modern naturalism 
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F.H. Bradley contribution

  • the meaning of human existence was the self-realisation that we are an individual within a community, "our function as an organ of the social organism"
  • to realise our true-self we must study our community 
  • to satisfy our 'true self' we must fulfil our role in society with hard work and obedience 
  • his theory supports the naturalist principles that knowledge can only be gained through the study of the natural world 
  • we should follow the ethics of the community, in which we are a member through studying our community as "morality exists all around us"
  • ethical language such as 'good' is based purely on verifying propositions with empirical evidence 
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Challenges to naturalism

David Hulme's 'is-ought' theory

  • he believed ethical propositions are not really based on empirical evidence they are just a value judgment 
  • e.g. 'Hitler is bad' is a value judgement 
  • naturalism is wrong because ethical propositions lack any meaning at all

George E. Moore

  • terms like 'good' and 'bad' are indefinable because they aren't complex, meaning they are already in their simplest form 
  • for example, you cant describe yellow to someone 
  • furthermore, ethical terms such as 'good' and 'bad' cannot be used as factual statements because you cannot define words like good and bad empirically, they are closed questions  
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strengths of naturalism

  • universal
  • scientific - it allows ethical claims to be tested in a scientific way
  • absolutist- it gives morality a set of absolute universal propositions 
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