Existentialism 8: What is Naturalism?


Robleh Wais

There is this common sense view that this world we live in has a state that is somehow natural, whatever that means. That the ecology of planet Earth is in a process that is particular to it, it is ongoing, and this is characteristic of the Earth, in this solar system. This process is the way the Earth was sort of intended to be. As I say, this is the common sense view. It is not the view science takes of our planet. You may have noticed the imprecise language I used in the preceding statements. Did you? Of course you did! You see, science doesn't assign notions of what is natural to this planet, but studies it and creates inductive conclusions about what is true of the planet. For instance, the idea that the crust of the Earth is really just a system of connected plates that are moving and readjusting throughout the planet's history is a result of careful studies that come to an inductive conclusion. Natural is a term that seems to be applied to the normative case, that is, how things should be not how they are. This is not the scientific point of view. I say seems to be meaning that is how it is used in our society. In our everyday world, natural means how our environment was prior to our changing it. This is not what science considers natural. Natural is what happens in the world including whatever we do in it. It was not always the view of science that the world as it is and evolves. In the pseudo-science of the centuries ago, deviations from a norm set by a deity were considered unnatural. But, science has advanced to see the error of evaluative positions. Science has retreated to become a discipline that is descriptive and not prescriptive. It describes what is the case and not what SHOULD be the case. In this respect as I've stated in previous essays, science accords well with Existentialism.

We can take this further. Is murder natural? Is suicide natural? Is everything that occurs in our world natural? The answer to these questions is yes! All that occurs in our reality is natural. All that is, is part of nature. I am not asking if it's moral. If it's right or wrong is not the question. Once we divorce ourselves from that issue, all that occurs in reality is natural. To put it another way, there is no Naturalism. What is occurring on Earth, from industrial air pollution to the befouling of the oceans, and the global warming of the atmosphere, to the strip mining of the terrestrial crust and the pollution of fluvial waters is natural. It's all as natural as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and terrestrial storms called hurricanes. I repeat natural is: what is occurring. Not what should be happening. Nature is not what is pleasing to our senses, and it is not what we contrive it to be. It is not what engineering processes attempt make it do. It just is, as Existentialism tells us.


The issue becomes as you must know by now, what can we see as aberrative? What is wrong behavior? Isn't there some way to define straying from normal behavior? And the answer is as simple as the question: Yes! Just because there is no meaning in nature in the processes that occur in our world, doesn't mean we can't apply values to them. It is to my continual amazement that many people confuse emotional reaction with intellectual evaluation. To put it in simple terms: if I don't like something, doesn't imply I judge that something. I can't swim, and fear drowning, and thus I don't like drowning, but that doesn't mean I think drowning is a BAD event.That is drowning itself is not evaluative as good or bad.It is just something I don't want to happen to me. Ideas of this type are considered in Deontic logic. The relationship between this branch of logic and Existentialism should be made clear.


This may come as even more of a surprise to readers of this series on Existentialism, but moral evaluative judgements are not in conflict with existential ideas. To take it to the extreme of psychological existentialism; just because I know I'm alone in my head and there is no one else that experiences the world as I do, doesn't imply I should not conform to moral values like familial love, non-violence to others in the form of murder, not to commit extreme incest, etc. Deontic logic can dovetail well with Existentialism. Anarchism would in its extreme form argue for destroying these human evaluative constructs. Anarchism is not on the menu here.


All that has been said can be summed in a pithy set of sentences.


All that occurs is natural. Natural occurrences can never be evaluated in moral terms.

Evaluation is itself not natural, but the human, meaningless, application of value to reality.

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