Yes you read the title correctly it is not a typo. The standard objection to the type of ethics I am developing here - ethical naturalism - is that in so doing I am committing the naturalistic fallacy which is meant to be fatal to such endeavors as mine. We will briefly examine this argument here.
The Naturalistic Fallacy
This argument was developed by G.E. Moore who used it to support his moral intuitionism or moral non-naturalism "objective" theories. What these are does not concern us in this post but his naturalistic fallacy argument does. Following Frankena [Frankena, W.K. (1939). "The Naturalistic Fallacy," Mind, 1939.] there are three versions of this "fallacy"
- defining a non-natural property like "goodness" in terms of natural properties
- defining one property "goodness" in terms of other properties
- defining an undefinable property such as "goodness"
Properties and Reductions
So what this leaves and what does concern us here is version 2. This is not a relative approach but a reductive approach. This point often confuses relativists and will be explored in future posts but simply put it is not that Y is relative to X - where X and Y are distinct and both exist - but that Y is reduced to X - that Y is X they are the same thing, there no two distinct properties. Now Moore is saying that this cannot be done that whatever definition one gives of "goodness" - the definition being such a reduction - fails.
However his initial position here is also question-begging as he has to show that "goodness" is some other thing which has not done so, he has only assumed it. As such this is not a logical fallacy it was an act of rhetoric for Moore to call it that and indeed his initial claim is itself a fallacy - that of question-begging - regardless of which version he used.
Goodness does not exist
Another objection here is that there is no such thing as "goodness" and "badness", that is there are no such essential properties that could be reduced since they do not exist. This is due to Mackie's argument from queerness, "goodness" and "badness" are supposed to be properties of objects but they are quite unlike and queerly different to other properties like mass, dimension, colour or texture or what are called intrinsic (belonging to the object) properties. "Goodness" and other such moral terms are evaluative or prescriptive and so Mackie argues, and I agree, there is no such thing as intrinsic prescriptive properties or, for short(!), intrinsic prescriptivity. So although this is not something I would argue for however, still being an ethical naturalist, a modified version of the naturalistic fallacy still applies and needs to be dealt with. Well what is left?
The Open Question Argument
This states that for whatever definition of, let us say now, "good", one can always ask 'but is it good'? For example if one defines the good as 'what is pleasurable', one can still ask 'but is it good'? He argues that for whatever definition is provided it is always an Open Question as to whether that definition applies and so it fails. Please note this is now different to his three question-begging fallacies that he smuggled in to his original "naturalistic fallacy", although generally everyone conceives of this as the key question and which needs to be dealt with here. Of course with a poor or inaccurate definition of "good", the Open Question argument makes perfect sense but unless there is something different when an accurate or correct definition is provided there is either something fishy going on or Moore is indeed correct. Well which is it?
Quine, Intensionality and Referential Opacity
The answer came from Quine, and others, although I do not believe he applied it to this particular problem.
An intensional statement has at least one instance such that substituting co-extensive expressions into it does not always preserve truth value. Saying 'Sarah wants water' and 'Sarah wants H20' are extensionally the same, however if Sarah does not know that water is (or is reducible to, is identical to) H20 the intensional substitution leads to a different truth value. A similar point is made over the evening star and morning start which extensionally refer to the same object, not a star but a planet Venus. If one does not know these both extensionally refer to Venus then one can intensionally beleive that one is looking at two different "stars".
Another way of saying this is that thinking the morning star and evening star are different means the Venus here is referentially opaque, it is mistake of a person's (subjective) epistemology (what they know) rather than ontology (what there actually is). The Open Question argument is defeated by referential opacity. Of course just because this argument does no work does not mean that ethical naturalism is correct. A positive argument still has to be made for that and that is what I am doing in these posts.
In my opinion one of the main reasons why the naturalistic fallacy - which I hope you can now see is itself a fallacy - is still popular as a critique of ethical naturalism is that this referential opacity is the result of the theories being argued for by critics of ethically naturalistic theories. That is anyone who holds some form of subjectivist, relativist or non-congnitivist view will find this quite convincing being unaware this is due to their own referential opacity - their subjective opinion in other words! This is circular reasoning and question begging again!
The Naturalistic Fallacy is itself a fallacy in five ways:
- It is not a logical fallacy
- It question begs over moral properties being non-natural
- It question begs over moral properties being indefinable
- It question begs over moral properties being other than the property it is being reduced to
- The Open Question relies upon referential opacity making it a fallacy.