Concept/Content naturalistic fallacy / Herbert Spencer
Information caption Biological determinism tries to present certain values as based on facts of nature. Accordingly, it also reflects another error, the naturalistic fallacy: the effort to find or extract values from the facts of nature. This error has a long history, going back at least to Herbert Spencer in the late 1800s. He claimed that laissez-faire social ideology was based on his biologized psychology and sociology and on Darwinian evolution (Spencer 1851, 1852a, 1852b, 1864; Moore 1903). The same error is found today when someone argues that some value or moral principle is justified because a certain trait is (so they claim) universal, or innate, or reflects "human nature." But frequency does not establish value. Such appeals typically indicate that the scientist is trying to inscribe his or her own cultural prejudice into the "facts" of nature: a threat to sound science called the naturalizing error (Allchin 2008). Facts of nature may surely inform moral reasoning and justification. But nature does not yield values on its own.
Inquiry caption In the late 1800s self-styled philosopher Herbert Spencer claimed that evolution, properly understood, justified a laissez-faire social ideology, often now inappropriately attributed to Darwin (Spencer 1851, 1852a, 1852b, 1864). His claims that nature exhibited inherent values that should guide human society were sharply criticized by philosopher G.E. Moore (1903), who famously called Spencer's error the naturalistic fallacy. What is the difference between facts and values? Why do facts alone not yield or justify values? How is understanding or explaining a behavior not the same as endorsing it?
How do even universal facts about humans (or "human nature") not dictate human ideals, values or notions of what should be? In what ways is frequency of occurence (or normality) not the same as a justified value? How do "is" and "ought" (description and prescription) differ?
Based on this analysis, why is it not possible for evolutionary theory or science to be a source of "natural" ethics or moral principles?
Target Concept: Neither nature nor evolution expresses or justifies values or particular ethical principles.
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