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What Is a Naturalistic Fallacy?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 23, 2024
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A naturalistic fallacy is a type of logical fallacy in which the idea that something is natural is used to indicate that it must therefore be good. One of the major flaws with this idea is that the meaning of the term “natural” can be clear in some instances, but may be vague in others. Use of this idea can also create a situation of “begging the question” in which someone argues that things that are natural are good simply because they are natural. A naturalistic fallacy is typically built upon the fact that someone uses a factual statement as evidence for a value statement.

Also called an appeal to nature, a naturalistic fallacy most commonly occurs when someone uses the argument that something that is “natural” is therefore “good.” This is typically used in combination with the idea that something that is “unnatural” is inherently “bad” or at least not as good as something “natural.” One of the major problems with the use of a naturalistic fallacy is that the meaning of the term “natural” is often vague. While trees are clearly natural, it is less clear when discussing a tree that has been introduced by people to a new area and is damaging the existing ecosystem in that area, regarding whether this process is “natural” or “unnatural.”

Another major issue with the use of a naturalistic fallacy in an argument is that it often creates a situation in which someone “begs the question.” “Begging the question” refers to an argument that basically uses itself as evidence of itself. For example, someone stating that “these birds are good because they are natural, and natural things are good” is “begging the question.” The argument requires the assumption that the condition “natural things are good” be true to support it, yet that is the very purpose of the argument being posed. This type of argument is quite common in a naturalistic fallacy and avoiding it requires that someone first argue whether something “natural” is inherently good.

Many of the issues that arise when someone utilizes a naturalistic fallacy stem from the fact that the fallacy relies on a factual statement being converted into a value statement. If someone says, “This tree is natural,” then he or she is simply making a statement of fact; this is regardless of whether it is true or not. The problem arises when someone extends that statement to then say “This tree is natural, which means that it is good,” as this introduces a value statement onto the statement of fact. Any such value statement needs to be evaluated separately and argued for or against, independent of the initial factual statement, which is the best way for someone to overcome a naturalistic fallacy.

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