I have been known to invoke “The Naturalistic Fallacy” – in fact did so most recently in my immediately previous post – but I need to clarify how I’m using it.
I’ve been following Ed Gibney for a while, and am discovering that important aspects of his evolutionary philosophy, and many of the sources he cites positively, coincide with many aspects of my own. Dennett, Pirsig, Dostoevsky to name but three. Also, intriguingly like myself (and Pirsig), his preferred aim is literary fiction that delivers philosophical knowledge, though so far in my case that remains a mere aspiration.
In that vein Gibney has an important 2015 piece published in ASEBL Journal [a bit of a mouthful … the Journal of the Association for the Study of
(Ethical Behavior) & (Evolutionary Biology) in Literature] entitled “Bridging the Is-Ought Divide: Life is. Life ought to act to remain so.”
He spends significant part of that paper debunking the naturalistic fallacy and indeed opens with this quote from Oliver Curry:
“The naturalistic fallacy…seems to have become something of a superstition. It is dimly understood and widely feared, and its ritual incantation is an obligatory part of the apprenticeship of moral philosophers and biologists alike.”
My own evolutionary metaphysics, and the epistemological ontology built on that, is entirely naturalistic with zero supernatural content, so clearly all the ethical / ought aspects of our evolved and evolving reality are part of that. No fallacy there, certainly not the kind that excludes the good / ought from the natural / is. (Gibney’s definition of life involving the “ought” to persist itself is a good one, and a regular topic here in recent years, but I digress.)
The reason the naturalistic fallacy nevertheless remains a useful concept is because a large element of “natural” worldviews held by humanist / sceptic / green / woke / “follow-the-science” types involves a much narrower “scientistic” view of natural science. One which practically excludes subjective human will, leaving the caricature that natural equals good, where human intent equals bad if not merely illusory and misguided.
The everyday sense that natural is necessarily good is the modern equivalent of the naturalistic fallacy, even though that’s not the sense in which Hume originally coined it. Good and bad are both naturally evolved elements of reality to be understood as such.
[Anyway there’s a lot more in that paper worth reflecting on, and another interesting dialogue with Massimo Pigliucci arising from his “Plants Don’t Think” post to come back to. I’ve had this problem with Massimo before.]
[Post Note: This piece from Dan Ariely et al in Behavioral Scientist bemoans this same modern “Appeal to Nature Fallacy“.]