Is the Naturalistic Fallacy Dead (and If So, Ought It Be?)

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Much of modern moral philosophy argued that there are is's in this world, and there are oughts, but that the two are entirely independent of one another. What this meant was that morality had nothing to do with man's biological nature, and could not be derived from it. Any such attempt was considered to be a categorical mistake, and plain foolish. Most philosophers still believe this, but a growing group of neo-naturalist thinkers are now challenging their assumptions. Here I consider the latest work of one of them, Patricia Churchland, on what neurobiology teaches us about morality, and ask whether her challenge means that the naturalistic fallacy, as it is known, should be laid to rest. I argue that while there may be no such thing as a human trait divorced from human biology, this does not necessarily mean that our natures produce constraints that are relevant to specific moral dilemmas.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)557-572
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of the History of Biology
Issue number3
Early online date26 Jun 2012
StatePublished - Aug 2012


  • Morality
  • Naturalistic fallacy
  • Neurobiology


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