8

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Just because something is natural is it good? Let's hack the "naturalistic fallacy".

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created September 06, 2011 at 10:04 PM

Have any of you heard of the the "naturalistic fallacy", "the appeal to nature", or the "is-ought problem"? Basically, these terms speak to the idea that just because something appears in nature or is "natural" it is not inherently good, beneficial, or just.

To underscore this point, here is an excerpt from the entry for "Appeal to Nature" @ Wikipedia.org

"Some popular examples of the appeal to nature can be found on labels and advertisements for food, clothing, and alternative herbal remedies.[9] Labels may use the phrase "all-natural", to imply that products are Environmentally friendly and/or safe. However, many toxic substances are found in nature, including in common plant sources and herbs such as hemlock, nightshade, belladonna, and poisonous mushrooms, and these may have serious side effects."

Other examples of this logical fallacy include justifications for social Darwinism, abhorrent behaviors (rape, war, etc.), and eugenics.

This has repercussions for both a paleo practitioner as well as someone who is attempting to understand what paleo means.

I often field questions from friends who know I follow the "caveman" diet that confuse naturalism with paleo. Usually something like "Why do you (eat bacon, drink coffee, take supplements, etc.)? Cavemen didn't do/eat that."

I try to explain that the point isn't to mimic a caveman's lifestyle and that there is nothing special about something existing during the paleolithic age. Its about looking at what foods and practices seem to make sense and to use that as a jumping-off point for scientific explanation. Being "paleo" also does not imply rejection of modern foods/conveniences simply because they are "unnatural".

I recently posted about this on my blog ("Paleo and The Naturalistic Fallacy"), but wanted to bring it up on Paleohacks because I value this community and think that we serve as a resource for many people who are either deeply involved in or just getting started with the lifestyle. The sheer number of "Is 'X' Paleo?" questions indicated to me that a discussion of the philosophical implications of the evolutionary sciences could be beneficial to the community at large.

Medium avatar

(19479)

on September 07, 2011
at 06:15 PM

Great point. Naturalism cuts both ways.

Medium avatar

(19479)

on September 07, 2011
at 06:09 PM

Agreed. I believe that suitable 'analogs' such as a zinc drops vs cow prostate are perfectly acceptable choices within the context of "paleo".

Medium avatar

(19479)

on September 07, 2011
at 06:07 PM

Love the KGH quote.

F5a8a14fc6a4d33c2563d0dd3066698a

(714)

on September 07, 2011
at 12:43 PM

A variation of the serenity prayer seems in order: God, grant me the serenity to accept the way my body is built to run, the courage to change my relationship to nature when I see it is trying to kill me, and the wisdom to know the difference.

0bc6cbb653cdc5e82400f6da920f11eb

(19245)

on September 06, 2011
at 10:10 PM

Dramatic blog picture, glad it was not me...

0bc6cbb653cdc5e82400f6da920f11eb

(19245)

on September 06, 2011
at 10:09 PM

Being bitten in the face by a snake is totally natural so it must be good for you.

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4 Answers

4
93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13

(10502)

on September 07, 2011
at 12:02 AM

Great question. Far too many people on this site, fall prey to the naturalistic fallacy. To quote Kurt Harris MD:

Nature is beautiful, and it is trying to kill you.

More here:

http://www.archevore.com/panu-weblog/2009/11/27/health-and-evolutionary-reasoning-the-panu-method.html

Medium avatar

(19479)

on September 07, 2011
at 06:07 PM

Love the KGH quote.

F5a8a14fc6a4d33c2563d0dd3066698a

(714)

on September 07, 2011
at 12:43 PM

A variation of the serenity prayer seems in order: God, grant me the serenity to accept the way my body is built to run, the courage to change my relationship to nature when I see it is trying to kill me, and the wisdom to know the difference.

2
89e238284ccb95b439edcff9e123671e

(10299)

on September 07, 2011
at 08:11 AM

The naturalistic fallacy can even be more complicated. Sometimes something is natural, but we don't want it, and still it is good for us. Don't understand it yet? ;)

Worms and our bodies being infected are unwanted, but natural. The can have adverse effects on our health, but not having worm infections can also have adverse effects (e.g. role of worm infections in asthma and allergies)

Evolutionary medicine is full of these trade-offs: Something natural can be good and bad at the same time.

Another example could be the relationship between the amount of menstrual cycles and breastcancer. If you are pregnant a lot, and breastfead all your children (like HG women were), this could be protective against breastcancer, but it is heavy for the female organism, and there are risks with every child that is born.

Medium avatar

(19479)

on September 07, 2011
at 06:15 PM

Great point. Naturalism cuts both ways.

2
D1728f99db66ff91d695a6df5cd38b02

(1368)

on September 06, 2011
at 10:16 PM

I often field questions from friends who know I follow the "caveman" diet that confuse naturalism with paleo. Usually something like "Why do you (eat bacon, drink coffee, take supplements, etc.)? Cavemen didn't do/eat that."

I try to explain that the point isn't mimicking a caveman's lifestyle and that there is nothing special about something existing during the paleolithic age. Its about looking at what foods and practices seem to make sense and to that as a jumping off point for scientific explanation. Being "paleo" also does not imply rejection of modern foods/conveniences simply because they are "unnatural".

Thanks for this, I have a lot of trouble trying to explain that it isn't about eating what cave men eat. How do I say "Its about looking at what foods and practices seem to make sense and to that as a jumping off point for scientific explanation." In a way that someone who wholeheartedly disagrees with Paleo (I don't know why) would understand? It seems like a hard thing to explain in a simple way.

0
Medium avatar

on September 06, 2011
at 11:31 PM

In the absence of info or in the presence of conflicting info about something, defaulting to the presumed ancestral state is usually a pretty safe bet. That's all "paleo" really means to me. I invoke it when there is uncertainty about a proper intake for a particular trace mineral, food etc.

Regarding people hassling you about supplementation, the answer is simply that with depleted soil and ancestral practices that you would not want to replicate (I'm not going to ask my butcher for cow prostate because it is a concentrated source of zinc) it's often far easier to just take a highly bioavailable supplement. There's also the issue of trying to quickly correct a chronic deficiency that the guy hassling you likely has instead of letting your new diet correct it over the next few months or more.

But yeah, one could argue that everything we do is natural or that nothing we do is natural. It's a matter of semantics and largely irrelevant.

Medium avatar

(19479)

on September 07, 2011
at 06:09 PM

Agreed. I believe that suitable 'analogs' such as a zinc drops vs cow prostate are perfectly acceptable choices within the context of "paleo".

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