An appeal to nature is an argument or rhetorical tactic in which it is proposed that "a thing is good because it is 'natural', or bad because it is 'unnatural'". It can be a bad argument, because the implicit (unstated) primary premise "What is natural is good" typically is irrelevant, having no cogent meaning in practice, or is an opinion instead of a fact. In some philosophical frameworks where natural and good are clearly defined in a specific context, the appeal to nature might be valid and cogent.
The meaning and importance of various understandings and concepts of "nature" has been a persistent topic of discussion historically in both science and philosophy. In Ancient Greece, "the laws of nature were regarded not [simply] as generalized descriptions of what actually happens in the natural world… but rather as norms that people ought to follow… Thus the appeal to nature tended to mean an appeal to the nature of man treated as a source for norms of conduct. To Greeks this… represented a conscious probing and exploration into an area wherein, according to their whole tradition of thought, lay the true source for norms of conduct."
In modern times, philosophers have challenged the notion that human beings' status as natural beings should determine or dictate their normative being. For example, Rousseau famously suggested that "We do not know what our nature permits us to be." More recently, Nikolas Kompridis has applied Rousseau's axiom to debates about genetic intervention (or other kinds of intervention) into the biological basis of human life, writing:
[T]here is a domain of human freedom not dictated by our biological nature, but [this] is somewhat unnerving because it leaves uncomfortably open what kind of beings human beings could become… Put another way: What are we prepared to permit our nature to be? And on what basis should we give our permission?
Kompridis writes that the naturalistic view of living things, articulated by one scientist as that of "machines whose components are biochemicals" (Rodney Brooks), threatens to make a single normative understanding of human being the only possible understanding. He writes, "When we regard ourselves as 'machines whose components are biochemicals,' we not only presume to know what our nature permits us to be, but also that this knowledge permits us to answer the question of what is to become of us… This is not a question we were meant to answer, but, rather, a question to which we must remain answerable."
In philosophy, naturalism is the "idea or belief that only natural (as opposed to supernatural or spiritual) laws and forces operate in the world." Adherents of naturalism (i.e., naturalists) assert that natural laws are the rules that govern the structure and behavior of the natural universe, that the changing universe at every stage is a product of these laws.
"Naturalism can intuitively be separated into an ontological and a methodological component." "Ontological" refers to the philosophical study of the nature of reality. Some philosophers equate naturalism with materialism. For example, philosopher Paul Kurtz argues that nature is best accounted for by reference to material principles. These principles include mass, energy, and other physical and chemical properties accepted by the scientific community. Further, this sense of naturalism holds that spirits, deities, and ghosts are not real and that there is no "purpose" in nature. Such an absolute belief in naturalism is commonly referred to as metaphysical naturalism.
Assuming naturalism in working methods as the current paradigm, without the unfounded consideration of naturalism as an absolute truth with philosophical entailment, is called methodological naturalism. The subject matter here is a philosophy of acquiring knowledge based on an assumed paradigm.
With the exception of pantheists—who believe that Nature and God are one and the same thing--theists challenge the idea that nature contains all of reality. According to some theists, natural laws may be viewed as so-called secondary causes of god(s).
In the 20th century, Willard Van Orman Quine, George Santayana, and other philosophers argued that the success of naturalism in science meant that scientific methods should also be used in philosophy. Science and philosophy are said to form a continuum, according to this view.
Teleology is the philosophical attempt to describe things in terms of their apparent purpose, directive principle, or goal. A purpose that is imposed by a human use, such as that of a fork, is called extrinsic. Natural teleology, common in classical philosophy but controversial today, contends that natural entities also have intrinsic purposes, irrespective of human use or opinion. For instance, Aristotle claimed that an acorn's intrinsic telos is to become a fully grown oak tree.
Though ancient atomists rejected the notion of natural teleology, teleological accounts of non-personal or non-human nature were explored and often endorsed in ancient and medieval philosophies, but fell into disfavor during the modern era (1600–1900).
In the late 18th century, Immanuel Kant used the concept of telos as a regulative principle in his Critique of Judgment. Teleology was also fundamental to the speculative philosophy of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.
Contemporary philosophers and scientists are still discussing whether teleological talk is useful or accurate in doing modern philosophy and science. For instance, in 2012, Thomas Nagel proposed a neo-Darwinian account of evolution that incorporates impersonal, natural teleological laws to explain the existence of life, consciousness, rationality, and objective value.
Thomas Nagel (/ˈneɪɡəl/; born July 4, 1937) is an American philosopher, currently University Professor of Philosophy and Law Emeritus at New York University in the NYU Department of Philosophy, where he has taught since 1980. His main areas of philosophical interest are philosophy of mind, political philosophy and ethics.
Nagel is well known for his critique of material reductionist accounts of the mind, particularly in his essay "What Is it Like to Be a Bat?" (1974), and for his contributions to deontological and liberal moral and political theory in The Possibility of Altruism (1970) and subsequent writings. Continuing his critique of reductionism, he is the author of Mind and Cosmos (2012), in which he argues against a reductionist view, and specifically the neo-Darwinian view, of the emergence of consciousness.