Appeal to nature

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Not to be confused with "appeal to Nature", which can be an entirely different fallacy.
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This box jellyfish[wp] is all-natural and therefore touching its tentacles is good for you and will not send you into horrible pain and then death in a few minutes!

An appeal to nature is an argument that tries to infer the properties of its subject from the subject's "naturalness" (or historical "applications"). In its general forms, the appeal to nature can be summed up as "X is natural, therefore X is good" (or superior, or moral, or any other positive quality), or "X is artificial/unnatural, therefore X is bad" (or inferior, or immoral, or any other negative quality).

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[edit] Deconstruction

Appeal to nature is a fallacious argument, because the mere "naturalness" of something is unrelated to its positive or negative qualities - natural things can be bad or harmful (such as infant death and the jellyfish on the left), and unnatural things can be good (such as clothes, especially when you are in Siberia). Another problem is the distinction of what is "natural" and what is not, which can be really murky: crude oil occurs naturally, but it's not something you'd like poured on seabirds or your garden. The word "natural" itself has no exact definition and can be used in multiple ways, thus allowing equivocation.

Appeals to nature are often encountered in advocacy for alternative medicine, organic food, general lifestyle woo, anti-vegetarianism, as well as in anti-industrial and anti-technological rhetoric, usually exhibiting themselves as something like:

Use this 100% natural herbal supplement, not that Big Pharma drug! Artificial chemicals are bad for you!

This is obviously flawed, as in the following "reasoning": Arsenic is natural, and therefore it is better for you than the unnatural (hence bad) acetaminophen in Tylenol.[1] Of course, very few people actually take the appeal to nature to its logical conclusion, so they instead prefer to handwave the issue of toxic plants away with some non-reason that could perhaps be satirically described as "All plants are natural. But some plants are more natural than others."

[edit] Further analysis

Appeal to nature derives its power primarily from human exceptionalism, a widespread view that humans are fundamentally different from other animals and the rest of the natural world. Human exceptionalism is an important feature of all Abrahamic religions. This belief makes it a lot easier to accept special pleading that the effects of human activity tend to be negative, while the effects of other natural processes tend to be positive. The whole argument has misanthropic undertones.

Various beliefs in good old days, and in particular the Christian idea of original sin also give credence to this fallacy by contextualizing the development of civilization as a process of decay, rather than a process of progress.

[edit] Naturalistic fallacy

See the main article on this topic: Hume's law

This type of argument is sometimes called the "naturalistic fallacy," though that name more properly applies to a broader type of argument - a description of how the world is (or how the arguer perceives the world to be) and assumes that is how it ought to be. The philosopher David Hume commented on this confusion of the way things are with the way things ought to be as the is-ought problem, followed by G. E. Moore, who coined the term. Appeal to nature can be thought of as a specific instance of the naturalistic fallacy.

[edit] Examples and counterexamples

This is pure, 100% natural raspberry ketone, fresh from the plant.
This is toxic, synthetic p-Hydroxybenzyl acetone, a horrible pharmaceutical poison. You say you can't tell the difference? That's just because you're just too close-minded.

Appeals to nature form the bread and butter for all nature woo: my quack remedy is from all-natural goats, and therefore good for you. For example, the anti-vaccine crowd may state that humans get immunity to diseases without vaccines, and thus conclude that vaccines are unnatural and ought not be used on children. Other examples include cyanide, a deadly yet natural poison, or smallpox; while fertilisers, many modern medicines, hygiene, and semiconductor-grade silicon do not occur naturally, they have great benefit to humans individually and in societies.

In the U.S., the food industry, along with the Food and Drug Administration's lack of regulation on the term, has also capitalized on the "all natural" craze. For instance, we have "all-natural" Sprite, which uses high-fructose corn syrup, produced by a centrifuge.

Few people take this fallacy to the logical extreme, such as living like a caveman, avoiding indoors and staying outside like a dirty animal (in the pejorative sense, not the "belonging to kingdom Metazoa" sense), with no technology or human advancements of any kind. Some hard greens have advocated it, although very few of them decide to practice as they preach and close down their websites to "live with nature." Most try to weakly argue that they "use technology against itself" or some such.

Alternative medicine's obsession with "naturalness" can lead to some amusing incidents. One herb company chemically tested synthetic and natural raspberry ketones to determine whether it was possible to distinguish between the two.[2] They couldn't find any difference. Rather than conclude the synthetic and natural molecules were exactly the same, they decided not to sell the product at all, because chemicals.[2]

Marijuans is natural. Poison hemlock is also natural, but just ask Socrates how that turned out. Oh, wait, you cannot! He was poisoned.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Arsenic, lead oxide, and mercury-containing "treatments" are all in use in traditional Chinese medicine, so there may well be a number of people who actually think this way.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Why no Raspberry Ketones at NOW Foods?, The Herbal Insider.
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