Naturalistic Fallacy

What is a Naturalistic Fallacy?

Ever heard of a “naturalistic fallacy?” It’s a fancy term for a pretty simple mistake people make. Here’s one way to understand it: just because something is common in nature doesn’t automatically mean it’s good for us to do. For example, it’s like noticing animals don’t wear clothes and then deciding you shouldn’t wear them either just because it’s “natural.” That would be pretty weird, right?

Here’s another way to think of it: if someone tells you the way things are is the way they’re supposed to be, they’re making a naturalistic fallacy. Say you see a tree growing through a sidewalk and think, “It’s meant to be there because it’s natural,” even though it’s cracking the concrete. This isn’t a great way to think, because sometimes nature and what’s best for us don’t line up.

The whole point of spotting a naturalistic fallacy is realizing that “natural” doesn’t always equal “right” or “good.” We shouldn’t just copy what we see in nature or assume past ways are best when deciding how people should act or think.

Examples of Naturalistic Fallacies

  • Example in Medicine: Once upon a time, people believed catching a cold was simply part of life, and there was no need to try and fix it. “Let the cold run its course; it’s only natural to be sick once in a while.” Thinking like this is a naturalistic fallacy because, sure, getting sick is a part of life, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get better! It’s great to have medicine and doctors to help us recover and not just accept illness because it’s “natural.”

  • Example in History: In the old days, most women cared for the home and family while men worked elsewhere. Now, some might say, “Women’s place is in the home, that’s the natural order of things.” This is an example of the naturalistic fallacy because it doesn’t consider that times change and there are many ways for families to thrive. Women might work, men might stay home, or they might mix it up; there’s no single way that’s naturally correct.

  • Example in Society: Consider the idea that only certain people should be allowed to vote because that’s how it was “naturally” for a long time. This overlooks the democratic principle of equal representation and is a naturalistic fallacy. Claiming it’s “natural” for some to have fewer rights ignores the progression of societies toward fairness and inclusion.

How to Avoid Naturalistic Fallacies

To keep away from making these mistakes, you’ve got to be a bit like a detective. When you hear someone say something is good or right just because it’s “natural” or “it’s been that way forever,” press them for more evidence. Look for solid reasons why their way makes sense. Nature and the tales of old can teach us a lot, but they’re not always the rulebook for modern life.

Related Topics

  • Moral Relativism: The idea of moral relativism is that what’s right and wrong can change depending on where you are or the situation you’re in. Think about how eating insects might be normal in one place but not in another. It’s similar to the naturalistic fallacy because it challenges the notion that there is one natural or correct way for everyone.

  • Appeal to Tradition: When people insist on doing things a certain way just because “it’s always been done like that,” that’s an appeal to tradition. Like insisting on wearing uncomfortable shoes because your family has for generations. This is kind of like the naturalistic fallacy because it suggests old methods are better by default.

  • Appeal to Nature: This is when someone declares something is good solely because it’s natural. Someone might say, “Eating this root is healthy because it’s straight from the earth.” But not all natural things are good for you. The appeal to nature is closely linked to the naturalistic fallacy because both assume “natural” equals “beneficial” or “correct.”

  • Is-Ought Problem: Philosophers talk about the “is-ought” problem, which is about the difficulty of saying how things should be simply based on how they are. Imagine if it rained and someone said, “It rains; therefore, we ought to get wet.” That might ignore the fact that we can use umbrellas. This problem is related to the naturalistic fallacy because both discuss the jump from “is” to “ought.”


So, wrapping it all up, the naturalistic fallacy is when we think the way things are in nature or have been historically is the way they should be for us. This can happen when talking about health, history, or any part of life. It’s key to question things, even if they’re labeled “natural” or “traditional.” Examining the facts and thinking about what’ll happen as a result is much better than just going along with what everyone else thinks. Next time someone tells you “It’s natural, so it’s the way to go,” remember to step back and think for yourself. Using your own judgment is a surefire way to steer clear of falling into the naturalistic fallacy trap.