Natural oughts? Is there such a thing as natural?

Natural oughts? Is there such a thing as natural? November 3, 2012

Here’s one I posted on my old blog.

I was wondering today, as I lay there with one of my twins in my arms, as to whether oughts can be derived from a natural pre-programmed behaviour. For example, if an evolved characteristic, such as aggressiveness in males (I am generalising here, of course) or to want to eat meat, or, if it could be proven, that it were ‘natural’ to be heterosexual was inherent in a human, are we then obliged in some way to act in accordance with that ‘natural’ inclination?

Or, indeed, is it just as ‘right’ that we overcome such ‘natural’ motivations with rational thought. For example, given that we are naturally predisposed to like and eat meat, are we obliged in any way to eat it? Or is this evolved programming simply irrelevant to who we are and what we do? Is it a genetic fallacy to think that in understanding how we got to where we are that we are in any way obliged to continue in that same framework. Thus to continue the example, if we find that it is actually morally reprehensible to eat meat, we are well within our rational rights to reject the eating of meat in favour of some form of vegetarianism, regardless of the fact that we might owe our large brains, or currently evolved form in some way, to the eating of meat.

In the same way, people who argue (and I am posting this entry from a naturalistic, non-theistic viewpoint) that heterosexuality is natural and that homosexuality is unnatural are raising the question as to whether that matters at all. There are an awful lot of things we do which are ‘unnatural’: medicine, TV, fake tan (well, I don’t), fly to space etc etc and we do them without compunction. They have no moral dimension resulting from their naturalness. Therefore, my point here is that natural vs unnatural is completely irrelevant. So what that a particular behaviour is ‘natural’!

This also brings us to another interesting point: what is the distinction between natural and unnatural? Is there such a distinction, or is it actually arbitrary? Surely any behaviour by a natural organism (i.e. human) is, in a sense, natural? I remember speaking to someone who thought that conceiving through IVF was unnatural and thus the resulting baby was unnatural; and yet he could not understand that keeping his mother-in-law alive with drugs in a hospital was exactly the same kind of ‘unnatural’. In fact, neither is natural or unnatural, but simply are. Everything, to one degree or another, is naturally derived, surely.


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