Appeal to nature


Appeal to nature

Appeal to nature is a commonly seen fallacy of relevance consisting of a claim that something is good or right because it is natural, or that something is bad or wrong because it is unnatural. In this type of fallacy nature is often implied as an ideal or desired state of being, a state of how things were, should be, or are: in this sense an appeal to nature may resemble an appeal to tradition.

Several problems exist with this type of argument that makes it a fallacy. First of all the word "natural" is often a loaded term, usually unconsciously equated with normality, and its use in many cases is simply a form of bias. Second, "nature" and "natural" have vague definitions and thus the claim that something is natural may not be correct by every definition of the term natural; a good example would be the claim of all-natural foods, such as "all-natural" wheat, the claimed wheat though is usually a hybridised plant that has been bred by artificial selection. Lastly, the argument can quickly be invalidated by a counter-argument that demonstrates something that is natural that has undesirable properties (for example aging, illness, and death are natural), or something that is unnatural that has desirable properties (for example, many modern medicines are not found in nature, yet have saved countless lives).

Generic forms of an appeal to nature are:

:"X is Y because it is natural." (Y being a desirable property):"X is Z because it is unnatural." (Z being an undesirable property) Or simply when a desirable or undesirable property is implied: :"X is natural.":"X is unnatural."

This fallacy is commonly seen on the labels and advertisements for alternative herbal remedies. The labels often have the phrase "all-natural" to assert that the product is safe. The idea that natural herbs and plants are always safe ignores the many toxic plants found in nature (hemlock, nightshade, poisonous mushrooms) and any possible side effects the herbs might have. Cocaine, for instance, is an "all-natural" medicine derived from the coca plant, and which was prescribed for many years for everything from chest colds to depression, yet it is highly addictive and can wreak havoc on the body's organs. Whether a product is "all-natural" or not is irrelevant in determining its safety or effectiveness.

The presence of this fallacy is manifest in the logic behind certain objections to evolution, specifically objections to evolution's morality. Those who object for this reason assume that if behaviors such as polygamy, infanticide and violence are shown to be natural, that would make them acceptable. This misunderstanding has fueled some animosity towards evolutionary biologists, for example sociobiology was criticized from this angle in the latter half of the twentieth century. Others, while not believing 'natural' to be 'right' themselves, assume that those advancing evolutionary theories do. This objection should not be confused with the closely related criticism that biologists in these fields are suggesting genetic determinism.

Some have argued that biological findings regarding evolution and human nature have helped propel the political right into power. Biologist John Maynard Smith replied to such criticism with the question "What should we have done, fiddled the equations?" In reality, writers in this field often consider the selfish behavior seen in nature important in understanding why we act the way we do, and as a warning of how we should "not" behave. One of the main themes Richard Dawkins pursues in "The Selfish Gene" is that "we should not derive our values from Darwinism, unless it is with a negative sign". [This is somewhat inaccurate as well though. A better way of putting it is that what is natural should simply have no bearing on what is moral; both appeal to nature and nature with a negative sign would provide a disastrous basis for an ethical system.] He points out that a society that uses nature as a moral compass would be "a very nasty society in which to live". He makes the point, however, that there are many people who simply cannot discriminate between a statement of what is and what ought to be. [Dawkins, R. 2006. "The Selfish Gene", 30th Anniversary edition. pp. xiv, 3.]

ee also

*Evolution of morality
*Greenwashing
*Naturalistic fallacy - a related fallacy often assumed to mean the same thing.
*Social Darwinism

References

* [http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/mathew/logic.html#natural The Natural Law fallacy / Appeal to Nature]
* [http://www.fallacyfiles.org/adnature.html Appeal to Nature]
* [http://www.cancer.org/docroot/ETO/content/ETO_5_3x_How_to_Know_What_Is_Safe_Choosing_and_Using_Dietary_Supplements.asp Natural is safe myth]


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