Naturalism is a comprehensive worldview based on a scientific, empirical understanding of reality. It offers a positive, rational, and fulfilling alternative to faith-based religions and non-empirical worldviews.
“Naturalism” is a term that is applied to many doctrines and positions in philosophy, and in fact, just how it is to be defined is itself a matter of philosophical debate. Still, the overall landscape of naturalism can be surveyed, and that is what we will do here. This discussion will not present a defense or critique of one or another specific version of naturalism. Its aim is to characterize the broad range of views typically identified as naturalistic and to say something about what motivates them. It will also locate the debate about naturalism in the larger setting of philosophical inquiry and theorizing overall.
The term “naturalism” has no very precise meaning in contemporary philosophy. Its current usage derives from debates in America in the first half of the last century. The self-proclaimed “naturalists” from that period included John Dewey, Ernest Nagel, Sidney Hook and Roy Wood Sellars. These philosophers aimed to ally philosophy more closely with science. They urged that reality is exhausted by nature, containing nothing “supernatural”, and that the scientific method should be used to investigate all areas of reality, including the “human spirit” (Krikorian 1944; Kim 2003).
Naturalism may refer to:
- Naturalism (arts), realism in the arts
Realism, sometimes called naturalism, in the arts is generally the attempt to represent subject matter truthfully, without artificiality and avoiding artistic conventions, or implausible, exotic, and supernatural elements. Realism has been prevalent in the arts at many periods, and can be in large part a matter of technique and training, and the avoidance of stylization.
- Naturalism (literature), a style in fictional writing
Naturalism is a literary movement beginning in the late nineteenth century, similar to literary realism in its rejection of Romanticism, but distinct in its embrace of determinism, detachment, scientific objectivism, and social commentary. The movement largely traces to the theories of French author Émile Zola.
- Naturalism (theater), a movement in theater and drama
Naturalism is a movement in European drama and theatre that developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It refers to theatre that attempts to create an illusion of reality through a range of dramatic and theatrical strategies. Interest in naturalism especially flourished with the French playwrights of the time, but the most successful example is Strindberg’s play Miss Julie, which was written with the intention to abide by both his own particular version of naturalism, and also the version described by the French novelist and literary theoretician, Émile Zola.
Philosophy and Science
Naturalism in Philosophy is any of several philosophical stances wherein all phenomena or hypotheses commonly labeled as supernatural are either false or not inherently different from natural phenomena or hypotheses.
In philosophy, naturalism is the “idea or belief that only natural (as opposed to supernatural or spiritual) laws and forces operate in the world.” Adherents of naturalism (i.e., naturalists) assert that natural laws are the rules that govern the structure and behavior of the natural universe, that the changing universe at every stage is a product of these laws.
- Critical naturalism
Roy Bhaskar (1944–2014) developed a general philosophy of science that he described as transcendental realism and a special philosophy of the human sciences that he called critical naturalism. The two terms were combined by other authors to form the umbrella term critical realism.
- Methodological naturalism
Methodological naturalism, naturalism that holds that science is to be done without reference to supernatural causes; also refers to a methodological assumption in the philosophy of religion that observable events are fully explainable by natural causes without reference to the supernatural
Methodological naturalism concerns itself with methods of learning what nature is. These methods are useful in the evaluation of claims about existence and knowledge and in identifying causal mechanisms responsible for the emergence of physical phenomena. It attempts to explain and test scientific endeavors, hypotheses, and events with reference to natural causes and events. This second sense of the term “naturalism” seeks to provide a framework within which to conduct the scientific study of the laws of nature. Methodological naturalism is a way of acquiring knowledge. It is a distinct system of thought concerned with a cognitive approach to reality, and is thus a philosophy of knowledge. Studies by sociologist Elaine Ecklund suggest that religious scientists in practice apply methodological naturalism. They report that their religious beliefs affect the way they think about the implications – often moral – of their work, but not the way they practice science.
Metaphysical naturalism, a form of naturalism that holds that the cosmos consists only of objects studied by the natural sciences, and does not include any immaterial or intentional realities
Metaphysical naturalism is a philosophical worldview which holds that there is nothing but natural elements, principles, and relations of the kind studied by the natural sciences. Methodological naturalism is a philosophical basis for science, for which metaphysical naturalism provides only one possible ontological foundation. Broadly, the corresponding theological perspective is religious naturalism or spiritual naturalism. More specifically, metaphysical naturalism rejects the supernatural concepts and explanations that are part of many religions.
- Liberal naturalism
Liberal naturalism is a heterodox form of metaphysical naturalism that lies in the conceptual space between scientific (or reductive) naturalism and supernaturalism. It allows that one can respect the explanations and results of the successful sciences without supposing that the sciences are our only resource for understanding humanity and our dealings with the world and each other.
The term was introduced in 2004 by Mario De Caro & David Macarthur and, independently, by Gregg Rosenberg. This form of naturalism has been ascribed to Immanuel Kant.
Ethical naturalism (also called moral naturalism or naturalistic cognitivistic definism) is the meta-ethical view which claims that:
- Ethical sentences express propositions.
- Some such propositions are true.
- Those propositions are made true by objective features of the world, independent of human opinion.
- These moral features of the world are reducible to some set of non-moral features
Spiritual naturalism, or naturalistic spirituality combines a naturalist approach to spiritual ways of looking at the world. Spiritual naturalism may have first been proposed by Joris-Karl Huysmans in 1895 in his book En Route.
Coming into prominence as a writer during the 1870s, Huysmans quickly established himself among a rising group of writers, the so-called Naturalist school, of whom Émile Zola was the acknowledged head…With Là-bas (1891), a novel which reflected the aesthetics of the spiritualist revival and the contemporary interest in the occult, Huysmans formulated for the first time an aesthetic theory which sought to synthesize the mundane and the transcendent: “spiritual Naturalism”.
Long before the term spiritual naturalism was coined by Huysmans, there is evidence of the value system of spiritual naturalism in Stoicism: “Virtue consists in a will that is in agreement with Nature“.
Religious naturalism, religious institutions, rituals, doctrines and communities which do not include supernatural beliefs
Religious naturalism combines a naturalist worldview with ideals, perceptions, traditions, and values that have been traditionally associated with many religions or religious institutions. “Religious naturalism is a perspective that finds religious meaning in the natural world and rejects the notion of a supernatural realm.” The term “religious” in this context is construed in general terms, separate from the traditions, customs, or beliefs of any one of the established religions.
Humanistic naturalism emphasises scientific reasoning as a basis for humane behavior
Humanistic naturalism is the branch of philosophical naturalism wherein human beings are best able to control and understand the world through use of the scientific method, combined with the social and ethical values of humanism. Concepts of spirituality, intuition, and metaphysics are considered subjectively valuable only, primarily because they are unfalsifiable, and therefore can never progress beyond the realm of personal opinion. A boundary is not drawn between nature and what lies “beyond” nature; everything is regarded as a result of explainable processes within nature, with nothing lying outside it.
- Sociological naturalism
Sociological naturalism is a theory that states that the natural world and social world are roughly identical and governed by similar principles. Sociological naturalism, in sociological texts simply referred to as naturalism, can be traced back to the philosophical thinking of Auguste Comte in the 19th century, closely connected to positivism, which advocates use of the scientific method of the natural sciences in studying social sciences. It should not be identified too closely with Positivism, however, since whilst the latter advocates the use of controlled situations like experiments as sources of scientific information, naturalism insists that social processes should only be studied in their natural setting. A similar form of naturalism was applied to the scientific study of art and literature by Hippolyte Taine (see Race, milieu, and moment).
- Political naturalism
Political naturalism is a minor political ideology and legal system which believes that there is a natural law, just and obvious to all, that crosses ideologies, faiths and personal thinking, that naturally guaranties justice. It is inspired by sociological naturalism, and scientific naturalism’s belief that the precision of natural sciences can be applied to social sciences, and hence to practical social activities like politics and law.
It may be seen as a natural law-based version of legalism/constitutionalism (especially of prescriptive constitutionalism, in the way it tries, idealistically, to make a constitution how it should justly be), and it bears relation with many constitutional monarchies (as in that system they too believe in rule of the law and in certain things who are naturally correct (like monarchy, monarchic institutions and traditions.
Naturalistic observation is, in contrast to analog observation, a research tool in which a subject is observed in its natural habitat without any manipulation by the observer. During naturalistic observation, researchers take great care to avoid interfering with the behavior they are observing by using unobtrusive methods. Naturalistic observation involves two main differences that set it apart from other forms of data gathering. In the context of a naturalistic observation, the environment is in no way being manipulated by the observer nor was it created by the observer.
- Poetic naturalism
American theoretical physicist Sean M. Carroll. terms his overall philosophical approach poetic naturalism, aiming by this term to suggest a type of naturalism which encourages a variety of ways to talk about the world, using language dependent upon the aspect of reality being discussed. Poetic naturalism acknowledges that the methods and terms used within one domain may not be coherent with those of another domain, yet both can be considered valid representations of reality.
Ziran, or Naturalness, a key concept in Daoism
- Natural history
Natural history is a domain of inquiry involving organisms, including animals, fungi and plants, in their natural environment, leaning more towards observational than experimental methods of study. A person who studies natural history is called a naturalist or natural historian.
Natural history encompasses scientific research but is not limited to it. It involves the systematic study of any category of natural objects or organisms. So while it dates from studies in the ancient Greco-Roman world and the medieval Arabic world, through to European Renaissance naturalists working in near isolation, today’s natural history is a cross discipline umbrella of many specialty sciences; e.g., geobiology has a strong multi-disciplinary nature.
- Naturalistic fallacy
Naturalistic fallacy, appealing to a definition of the term “good” in terms of one or more natural properties
In philosophical ethics, the term naturalistic fallacy was introduced by British philosopher G. E. Moore in his 1903 book Principia Ethica. Moore argues it would be fallacious to explain that which is good reductively, in terms of natural properties such as pleasant or desirable.
Moore’s naturalistic fallacy is closely related to the is–ought problem, which comes from David Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature (1738–40). However, unlike Hume’s view of the is–ought problem, Moore (and other proponents of ethical non-naturalism) did not consider the naturalistic fallacy to be at odds with moral realism.
Naturism, the practice of social nudity, often confused with the term “naturalism“
Naturism, or nudism, is a cultural movement practising, advocating, and defending personal and social nudity, most but not all of which takes place on private property. The term also refers to a lifestyle based on personal, family, or social nudity. Naturism may be practiced individually, within a familial or social context, or in public.