May 2, 2002


Naturalistic Fallacy (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
The naturalistic fallacy is a metaethical theory proposed by G.E. Moore (1873-1958) in Principia Ethica (1903) that the notion of moral goodness cannot be defined or identified with any property. Moore argues that "goodness" is a foundational and unanalyzable property, similar to the foundational notion of "yellowness," and is not capable of being explained in terms of anything more basic. We intuitively recognize goodness when we see it, as we similarly recognize yellowness when we see it. But the notion of "goodness" itself cannot be defined. For Moore, philosophers who attempt to define intrinsic goodness commit the naturalistic fallacy, the fallacy of defining the term "goodness" in terms of some natural property, such as pleasure. Moore defends his contention with what has been called the open question argument. For any property we attempt to identify with "goodness," we can ask, "Is that property itself good?" For example, if I claim that pleasure is the highest intrinsic good, the question can be asked, "But, is pleasure itself good?" The fact that this question makes sense shows that "pleasure" and "goodness" are not identical. Moore believes that no proposed natural property can pass the test of the open question argument. This implies that all moral theories fail that are based on anything other than immediate moral intuition. It is only of secondary importance whether an action produces pleasure, is in accord with the will of God, or is conducive to reason. What truly matters is whether we can simply recognize the goodness of a particular action.

Commentators argue that we may more accurately view the naturalistic fallacy as a definist fallacy: it is wrong to identify moral goodness with any property at all. Subsets of the definist fallacy are (1) the naturalistic fallacy, which is the attempt to identify goodness with a natural property such as pleasure, and (2) the metaphysical fallacy, which is the attempt to identify goodness with a metaphysical property, such as the will of God.

There seems to be a good deal of resistance to the idea that philosophy has been unable to find any other feasible ground for morality in the absence of God. Perhaps this definition will be helpful. And yes, I do concede that if God is merely a human construct then religious "goodness" and morality are fallacies also. That is why I believe He must exist. Posted by Orrin Judd at May 2, 2002 8:03 PM
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