Naturalistic Fallacy: Definition & Examples Video

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  • 0:01 A Controversial Fallacy
  • 0:22 Definition of…
  • 1:56 Appeal to Nature Fallacy
  • 3:30 Clarifying Your Argument
  • 4:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

Learn about a controversial fallacy and why some philosophers do not agree that flawed thinking is involved in this form of argument in this lesson. Consider some concrete examples and various approaches to this problem.

A Controversial Fallacy

Do you think you should get regular exercise? If so, why do you think you should, logically speaking? One reason you might give is because of the health benefits that occur when you get exercise. Therefore, you should get exercise. Some would argue that the argument you've just made for why you should get exercise is a type of naturalistic fallacy. This lesson explores why there is controversy about this topic.

Definition of Naturalistic Fallacy

It seems like a no-brainer to say that's it's good to get physical activity. But, while few people would argue that it's a bad idea to aim for more physical movement in your life, some might take you to task for how you logically argue for why you should. Consider for a moment what benefits you might know exist for physical activity. You might look at research for its impact on your life span, quality of life, and a correlation to preventing certain health problems.

If these are scientific facts, then few will argue these points. What they might argue about is whether you can take a leap from saying that exercise improves these various areas to saying that it is, therefore, something you should do, as an obligation, something that is 'good' with a capital G. Using a broad definition, a naturalistic fallacy is an argument that derives what ought to be from what is. In other words, it's an argument that moves from facts (what is) to value judgments (what ought to be).

One minute you're arguing about what is scientifically accurate about the specific impacts of exercise on the body, and the next you're saying that you are morally obligated to do it. Another way to describe this problem in philosophy is that you cannot derive an 'ought' from an 'is.' Those who believe that naturalistic fallacies are a problem would question whether you arrived at your conclusion to exercise using reason and logic.

Appeal to Nature Fallacy

Once again, though, you might say that it seems like a no-brainer to go from something that is factual to something that involves a value. Why not connect the two? In the example about physical activity, it's hard to see the problem. In other examples, you'll have an easier time identifying the issue. Consider the following statements:

  • Human females have the capacity to give birth to children.
  • Women are obligated to have children whether they want to or not.

Now it's easier to see the flaw. The first statement about women being able to give birth is a factual statement. The second statement is more of a value judgment saying that women are morally obligated to have children.

This particular example involves an appeal to nature fallacy, or an argument that starts with facts about nature and moves to a moral statement that goes beyond the facts. Some philosophical definitions of the naturalistic fallacy include an appeal to nature, while others see the two as distinct fallacies.

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