Appeal to nature  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

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'".

History

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.” (1995, Encyclopaedia Britannica)

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." (Nikolas Kompridis)

Philosophers such as Jacques Derrida, Bruno Latour and others have also questioned inherited understandings of nature in their work.

Examples

Some popular examples of the appeal to nature can be found on labels and advertisements for food, clothing, and alternative herbal remedies. 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.

It has therefore been suggested that whether or not a product is "natural" is irrelevant, in itself, in determining its safety or effectiveness.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Appeal to nature" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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