About this topic

The ‘naturalistic fallacy’ has been variously identified with the claim that: (i) moral concepts can be defined in terms of non-moral, natural, or metaphysical concepts (the semantic form of the fallacy), (ii) moral properties can be identified with complex, non-moral, natural, or metaphysical properties (the ontological form), (iii) substantive moral conclusions (‘oughts’) can be derived from wholly non-moral premises (‘is-es’; the inferential or Humean form of the fallacy). The phrase was coined by Moore, who did not sharply distinguish between concepts and properties, and who focused on goodness, which he took to be fundamental and simple. Moore’s argument for thinking that the fallacy is a fallacy (i.e. false) is the open question argument. Replies to Moore include the claim that his argument begs the question, that it precludes any informative analysis (the paradox of analysis) and that it establishes only the indefinability of moral concepts, not the irreducibility of moral properties.   

Key works

Moore introduces the naturalistic fallacy in Moore 1903 (section 10), although he later expressed dissatisfaction which his formulation there, and tried to improve on it in a preface to a never-completed second edition (reprinted in Baldwin 1993). Frankena 1939 argues that Moore’s argument is question-begging; Snare 1975 responds. Jackson 1998 (chapter 6) and Smith 1994 (chapter 2) defend analytic naturalism against Moore, highlighting Moore’s paradox of analysis. Durrant 1970 is an early statement of a view which accepts the indefinability of moral concepts but not the irreducibility of moral properties – pursued at length in Boyd 1988. Darwall et al 1992 provides an overview of the influence of Moore’s arguments on metaethics and Baldwin 1990 (chapter 3) gives a detailed account how the fallacy fits in to Moore’s wider philosophical views. A forthcoming collection is Sinclair 2019.

Introductions Pigden 1991, Sturgeon 1998
Related categories

110 found
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  1. From the "Naturalistic Fallacy" to the Ideal Observer Theory.Glen O. Allen - 1970 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 30 (4):533-549.
  2. From the "Naturalistic Fallacy" to the Ideal Observer Theory.Glen-O. Allen - 1970 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 30:533-549.
  3. A Note on Searle's Naturalistic Fallacy Fallacy.James C. Anderson - 1974 - Analysis 34 (4):139 - 141.
  4. Did Hayek Commit the Naturalistic Fallacy?Erik Angner - manuscript
    In promoting spontaneous orders – orders that evolve in a process of cultural evolution – as “efficient,” “beneficial,” and “advantageous,” Friedrich A. Hayek (1899-1992) has often been attributed the belief that there is something desirable about them. For this reason, he has been accused of committing the naturalistic fallacy, that is, of trying to derive an “ought” from an “is.” It appears that Hayek was..
  5. St. Thomas and the Naturalistic Fallacy.Michael Augros & Christopher Oleson - 2013 - The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly 13 (4):637-661.
  6. Rules, Definitions, And The Naturalistic Fallacy.G. P. Baker & P. M. Hacker - 1966 - American Philosophical Quarterly 3 (October):299-305.
  7. Principia Ethica.Thomas Baldwin (ed.) - 1993 - Cambridge University Press.
    Principia Ethica is recognised as the definitive starting point for twentieth-century ethical theory. Its influence was first largely confined to the Bloomsbury Group - Maynard Keynes wrote that it was 'better than Plato' - who took it up for its celebration of the values of art and love; but later it achieved the widespread recognition it still retains as a classic text of analytic ethical theory. It is particularly renowned for Moore's argument that previous ethical theories have been guilty of (...)
  8. Really Taking Darwin and the Naturalistic Fallacy Seriously: An Objection to Rottschaefer and Martinsen. [REVIEW]Jonathan Barrett - 1991 - Biology and Philosophy 6 (4):433-437.
    Out of a concern to respect the naturalistic fallacy, Ruse (1986) argues for the possibility of causal, but not justificatory, explanations of morality in terms of evolutionary processes. In a discussion of Ruse's work, Rottschaefer and Martinsen (1990) claim that he erroneously limits the explanatory scope of evolutionary concepts, because he fails to see that one can have objective moral properties without committing either of two forms of the naturalistic fallacy, if one holds that moral properties supervene on non-moral properties. (...)
  9. Is There a Naturalistic Fallacy?Bernard H. Baumrin - 1968 - American Philosophical Quarterly 5 (2):79 - 89.
  10. Moore on Goodness and the Naturalistic Fallacy.Hasna Begum - 1979 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 57 (3):251-265.
  11. Hedonic Naturalism.David Brax - manuscript
    Published (in Swedish) in the journal Filosofisk tidskrift as "Hedonistisk naturalism", 2011/3.
  12. Falácia naturalista e naturalismo moral: do é ao deve mediante o quero.Adriano Naves de Brito - 2010 - Kriterion: Revista de Filosofia 51 (121):215-226.
  13. The Naturalistic Fallacy and Value Terms in Ethics.William Harry Bruening - 1969 - Dissertation, University of Notre Dame
  14. O problema da falácia naturalista para o projeto de uma ética evolucionista.Karla Chediak - 2006 - Kriterion: Journal of Philosophy 47 (113):147-157.
  15. Quel rapport entre science et justice? - La leçon de Léon Bourgeois.Simon-Pierre Chevarie-Cossette - 2016 - In Daoust Marc-Kevin (ed.), Capitalisme, propriété et solidarité. Les Cahiers D'Ithaque.
    Le solidarisme de Léon Bourgeois constitue une tentative convaincante de surmonter l’opposition traditionnelle entre libertés individuelles et justice sociale. Bourgeois tente de relever ce défi en faisant appel aux nouvelles découvertes scientifiques en sociologie comme en biologie. En bref, l’observation de la nature nous montrerait que les humains sont en rapport de solidarité les uns avec les autres. De ce fait, on pourrait tirer un devoir de solidarité que l’État serait à même d’imposer aux individus. Fonder une théorie politique sur (...)
  16. Theological Ethics and The Naturalistic Fallacy.John P. Crossley - 1978 - Journal of Religious Ethics 6 (1):121-134.
    Theological ethics is vulnerable to the charge made by some philosophical ethicists that it frequently commits the "naturalistic fallacy," i.e., that it fallaciously derives duties and obligations from purely descriptive theological premises. Some theological ethicists, acceding to the charge, have contented themselves with an examination of how theological ethics might "influence" or "enrich" ethical propositions based on non-theological foundations. This essay analyzes the current scene in theological ethics and argues that the "naturalistic fallacy" is not the real danger. The real (...)
  17. Who's Afraid of the Naturalistic Fallacy?Oliver Curry - unknown
  18. The Naturalistic Fallacy Is Modern.Lorraine Daston - 2014 - Isis: A Journal of the History of Science 105 (3):579-587.
    The naturalistic fallacy appears to be ubiquitous and irresistible. The avant-garde and the rearguard, the devout and the secular, the learned elite and the lay public all seem to want to enlist nature on their side, everywhere and always. Yet a closer look at the history of the term “naturalistic fallacy” and its associated arguments suggests that this way of understanding appeals to nature’s authority in human affairs is of relatively modern origin. To apply this category cross-historically masks considerable variability (...)
  19. Naturalism in Question.Mario De Caro & David Macarthur (eds.) - 2004 - Harvard University Press.
    This volume presents a group of leading thinkers who criticize scientific naturalism not in the name of some form of supernaturalism, but in order to defend a ...
  20. Can Kitcher Avoid the Naturalistic Fallacy?Sinion Derpmann, Dominik Düber, Tim Rojek & Konstantin Schnieder - 2013 - In Marie Kaiser & Ansgar Seide (eds.), Philip Kitcher. Pragmatic Naturalism. Ontos. pp. 61.
  21. The Is/Ought Gap, the Fact/Value Distinction and the Naturalistic Fallacy.Julian Dodd & Suzanne Stern-Gillet - 1995 - Dialogue 34 (4):727-.
  22. The Naturalness of the Naturalistic Fallacy and the Ethics of Nanotechnology.Mauro Dorato - 2013 - In The Role of Technology in Science: Philosophical Perspectives. Springer Verlag.
    In the first part of this paper, I try to clear the ground from frequent misconceptions about the relationship between fact and value by examining some uses of the adjective “natural” in ethical controversies. Such uses bear evidence to our “natural” tendency to regard nature (considered in a descriptive sense, as the complex of physical and biological regularities) as the source of ethical norms. I then try to account for the origin of this tendency by offering three related explanations, the (...)
  23. Has Anyone Committed the Naturalistic Fallacy?EImer H. Duncan - 1970 - Southwestern Journal of Philosophy 1 (1):40-46.
  24. Has Anyone Committed the Naturalistic Fallacy?Elmer H. Duncan - 1970 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 8 (1):49-55.
  25. Ecocentrism and Appeals to Nature's Goodness: Must They Be Fallacious?Antoine C. Dussault - manuscript
  26. L’écocentrisme et ses appels normatifs à la nature : sont-ils nécessairement fallacieux ?Antoine C. Dussault - 2013 - In É Litalien (ed.), Peut-on tirer une éthique de l'étude de la nature ? Les Cahiers d'Ithaque. pp. 43-76.
  27. Le rôle de la science dans l'écocentrisme humien de Callicott.Antoine C. Dussault - 2010 - Revue Phares 10:103-123.
    Dans cet article, je présenterai la stratégie adoptée par J. B. Callicott pour ancrer l’écocentrisme dans les sciences biologiques et écologiques tout en restant en accord avec la méta-éthique humienne selon laquelle on ne peut directement inférer un jugement portant sur le devoir-être à partir d'un jugement portant sur l'être. Je le ferai en rappelant d’abord quelques caractéristiques importantes de la méta-éthique humienne quant à la relation entre la raison, les émotions et les jugements de valeur. Je montrerai ensuite comment (...)
  28. Strategies for Advancing Evolution.John E. Stewart - manuscript
    As detailed in The Evolutionary Manifesto and Evolution’s Arrow, an understanding of the large-scale processes that govern the evolution of life is capable of making sense of human existence. This evolutionary worldview is revealing that we are not just meaningless accidents in a universe that is indifferent to our existence. Instead it shows that humanity has a critical role to play in the future evolution of life on this planet and in the universe. -/- But what specifically do we need (...)
  29. The Evolutionary Manifesto.John E. Stewart - manuscript
    The Evolutionary Manifesto shows that evolution is directional and demonstrates that this has major implications for humanity. The Manifesto shows that humanity must align its social systems and behaviour with the trajectory of evolution if we are to survive and thrive into the future. The Manifesto goes on to demonstrate that humanity has an essential role to play in the future evolution of life on this planet. It demonstrates that life on Earth has reached a critical stage in evolution’s trajectory. (...)
  30. Ethics and Nature.Jay Elliott - 2006 - Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale 3 (3):321-334.
  31. Biomedical Ethics, Public-Health Risk Assessment, and the Naturalistic Fallacy.Kevin Elliott - 2002 - Public Affairs Quarterly 16 (4):351-376.
  32. Fallacia Deontica. From "Ought" to "Is".Federico L. G. Faroldi - 2012 - Rivista Internazionale di Filosofia Del Diritto 89 (3):413–418.
  33. Moore, Spencer, and the Naturalistic Fallacy.James Fieser - 1993 - History of Philosophy Quarterly 10 (3):271 - 276.
  34. The Naturalistic Fallacy.W. K. Frankena - 1939 - Mind 48 (192):464-477.
  35. Macintyre on Defining Morality.William K. Frankena - 1958 - Philosophy 33 (125):158 - 162.
    IN “What Morality is Not”, Philosophy , XXXII , Mr. Alasdair Maclntyre argues against the view, now common, “that universal–izability is of the essence of moral valuation”. On page 331 he uses an argument which is an adaptation and extension of Moore's naturalistic fallacy argument, and which is generalizable. As Moore's argument, if cogent, holds against all definitions of “good”, “right”, etc., so Maclntyre's argument, if good, holds against all definitions of “moral” and “morality”. For this reason I shall examine (...)
  36. Moore's Naturalistic Fallacy.David P. Gauthier - 1967 - American Philosophical Quarterly 4 (4):315 - 320.
  37. A Note on the Naturalistic Fallacy.George R. Geiger - 1949 - Philosophy of Science 16 (4):336-342.
  38. Lawrence Kohlberg and G. E. Moore on the Naturalistic Fallacy.James M. Giarelli - 1976 - Educational Theory 26 (4):348-354.
  39. Avoiding the Super-Naturalistic Fallacy: Practical Reasoning and the Insightful Undergraduate.Steven Gimbel - 2002 - Journal of Thought 37 (3).
  40. The Naturalistic Fallacy in Ethical Discourse on the Social Determinants of Health.Daniel Goldberg - 2015 - American Journal of Bioethics 15 (3):58-60.
  41. Business Ethics, Ideology, and the Naturalistic Fallacy.Kenneth E. Goodpaster - 1985 - Journal of Business Ethics 4 (4):227 - 232.
    This paper addresses the relationship between theoretical and applied ethics. It directs philosophical attention toward the concept of ideology, conceived as a bridge between high-level principles and decision-making practice. How are we to understand this bridge and how can we avoid the naturalistic fallacy while taking ideology seriously?It is then suggested that the challenge posed by ideology in the arena of organizational ethics is in many ways similar to the challenge posed by developmentalist accounts of moral stages in the arena (...)
  42. Is the Naturalistic Fallacy Dead.Oren Harman - 2012 - Journal of the History of Biology 45 (3):557-572.
  43. Is the Naturalistic Fallacy Dead (and If So, Ought It Be?).Oren Harman - 2012 - Journal of the History of Biology 45 (3):557 - 572.
    Much of modern moral philosophy argued that there are is's in this world, and there are oughts, but that the two are entirely independent of one another. What this meant was that morality had nothing to do with man's biological nature, and could not be derived from it. Any such attempt was considered to be a categorical mistake, and plain foolish. Most philosophers still believe this, but a growing group of neonaturalist thinkers are now challenging their assumptions. Here I consider (...)
  44. Institutional Facts and the Naturalistic Fallacy. Confronting Searle with Searle.Frank Hindriks - 2002 - ProtoSociology 16:170-192.
    In 1964 Searle argued against the naturalistic fallacy thesis that an ought-statement can in fact be derived from is-statements. From an analysis of this argument and of Searle’s social ontology of 1995 – which includes a full-blown theory of institutional facts – I conclude that this argument is unsound on his own terms. The conclusion that can now be drawn from Searle’s argument is that social or institutional obligations are epistemically objective even though they are observer-dependent. I go on to (...)
  45. Igniting the Deontic Consequence Relation: Dilemmas, Trumping, and the Naturalistic Fallacy.Kurt Holukoff - unknown
    In this work, Kurt Holukoff examines three formal approaches to representing valid inferences in reasoning regarding obligation and its cognates: deontic logic. He argues that an appropriate formalization of deontic logic should take genuine moral dilemmas seriously, be capable of representing trumping-like reasoning, and not make the naturalistic fallacy valid as a matter of logic. The three systems he investigates are, the Standard Deontic logic, a Relevant Deontic logic, and Schotch and Jennings’ multiple moral accessibility relations Deontic logic. The Standard (...)
  46. It Does Not Matter Whether We Can Derive 'Ought' From 'Is'.Alison Jaggar - 1974 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 3 (3):373 - 379.
  47. «I Deal I St Icf» Os Iti Ons Im Naturalistic Ethics.Jacek Jastal - 1995 - In Eugeniusz Kulwicki (ed.), Selected Problems of Economics, Sociology and Philosophy. Politechnika Krakowska. pp. 7--65.
  48. Theological Ethics and The Naturalistic Fallacy.John P. Crossley Jr - 1978 - Journal of Religious Ethics 6 (1):121 - 134.
    Theological ethics is vulnerable to the charge made by some philosophical ethicists that it frequently commits the "naturalistic fallacy," i.e., that it fallaciously derives duties and obligations from purely descriptive theological premises. Some theological ethicists, acceding to the charge, have contented themselves with an examination of how theological ethics might "influence" or "enrich" ethical propositions based on non-theological foundations. This essay analyzes the current scene in theological ethics and argues that the "naturalistic fallacy" is not the real danger. The real (...)
  49. Naturalismus und menschliche Natur.Geert Keil - 2008 - In Wolf-Jürgen Cramm & Geert Keil (eds.), Der Ort der Vernunft in einer natürlichen Welt. Logische und an­thro­pologi­sche Ortsbestimmungen. Velbrück Wissenschaft. pp. 192-215.
  50. Anthropologischer und ethischer Naturalismus.Geert Keil - 2004 - In Bernd Goebel, Anna Maria Hauk & Gerhard Kruip (eds.), Probleme des Naturalismus. Philosophische Beiträge. Mentis. pp. 65-100.
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