Appeal to nature

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About

An appeal to nature is a claim that something is good or right because it is "natural", or that something is bad or wrong because it is unnatural.

This equation is generally regarded as a fallacy (it is also known as the "naturalistic fallacy") for the following reasons:

  • the lack of justification for thinking that this is so.
  • the fact that most of civilization is inherently "unnatural", e.g. wearing clothes. Very few who use this argument are willing to follow up on all of its implications:
    • Any argument based on the assumption that "unnatural" means "bad" therefore must grant that wearing clothing is wrong. One common use of the appeal to nature is within prudish denouncements of nonstandard sexual behavior; the proponents of such arguments are generally horrified by public nudity, breastfeeding, and other "natural" activities.
    • Any discussion in which this argument is used is maligning the framework of civil discourse in which the discussion is taking place; hitting the other person over the head with a rock is therefore an appropriate rebuttal, since it is an entirely natural response.
  • the large number of obvious counterexamples. You wouldn't, say, defend a shark's right to attack swimmers (much less a vicious dog's right to maim children) just because that was its natural tendency, or make laws requiring that people behave more like chimpanzees.

Validity

As with many fallacies, there is a grain of validity to it – in this case, the fact that if something is done in nature, it may be somehow vital to survival, otherwise known as the argument from survival.

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