5X5 Episode 110

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Skeptical Rogues

  • S: Steven Novella
  • E: Evan Bernstein
  • J: Jay Novella
  • R: Rebecca Watson
  • B: Bob Novella

Naturalistic Fallacy

You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide 5x5, five minutes with five skeptics, with Steve, Jay, Rebecca, Bob and Evan.

S: This is the SGU five by five and tonight we're talking about the naturalistic fallacy. This is a logical fallacy that takes the form of assuming or claiming that something is better, superior in some way, because it is "natural". There are many problems with this line of reasoning. One is that it is very difficult to define what one means by the word natural. There's no real operational definition or sharp line of demarcation between what is natural and what is not natural. But more importantly just because, for example, a remedy is perceived as being natural that does not mean that is is magically safe and effective. Often the naturalistic fallacy is used instead of evidence, actual evidence, for safety and efficacy. This is rife, for example, in the herbal remedies market. Herbs are often thought of as being something other than drugs maybe because they're "natural". Ignoring the fact that that's completely irrelevant, if an herb is taken it contains chemicals - that's a drug - herbs are in fact often used as drugs, the fact that they are considered to be natural is completely irrelevant to the chemicals that they contain and their action inside the body, and that is, I think, an excellent example of the naturalistic fallacy.

B: The naturalistic fallacy has two fundamental aspects to it. There's the appeal to nature that Steve just mentioned - natural things are fundamentally good, and unnatural things aren't - related to this appeal to nature

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