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naturalistic fallacy


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The mistake of deriving what ought to be from what is, or occasionally vice versa. It was named and discussed at length by the English philosopher G(eorge) E(dward) Moore (1873–1958) in his book in Principia Ethica (1903), without reference to what came to be regarded as the basic authority, namely A Treatise of Human Nature (1739) by the Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711–76): ‘In every system of morality that I have hitherto met with … I am surprised to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence’ (Book III, part 1, section 1). [So called because examples usually centre on what is natural, as in the argument that it is right to eat meat because human beings have always naturally done so]

Subjects: Psychology.


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