The Naturalizing Error

Abstract

We describe an error type that we call the naturalizing error: an appeal to nature as a self-justified description dictating or limiting our choices in moral, economic, political, and other social contexts. Normative cultural perspectives may be subtly and subconsciously inscribed into purportedly objective descriptions of nature, often with the apparent warrant and authority of science, yet not be fully warranted by a systematic or complete consideration of the evidence. Cognitive processes may contribute further to a failure to notice the lapses in scientific reasoning and justificatory warrant. By articulating this error type at a general level, we hope to raise awareness of this pervasive error type and to facilitate critiques of claims that appeal to what is “natural” as inevitable or unchangeable.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Ironically, perhaps, this approach respects Bloor (1991) principle of symmetry, by coupling a sociological understanding of false beliefs (error) with a corresponding sociological understanding of the complementary processes that yield correct claims. See especially Bloor’s response to critics (1991, 175–179).

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Correspondence to Douglas Allchin.

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Allchin, D., Werth, A.J. The Naturalizing Error. J Gen Philos Sci 48, 3–18 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10838-016-9336-x

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Keywords

  • Error types
  • Naturalizing error
  • Naturalistic fallacy
  • Public understanding of science
  • Social construction of science