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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Naturalistic and Moralistic Fallacies

 

Throughout my blog, I discuss Scottish Enlightenment philosopher David Hume’s concept of the is-ought problem, which essentially posits that one cannot derive and ought from an is. As an example: The Texas government doesn’t provide each resident access to abortion; therefore, authorities ought to enshrine this right into the Constitution of the State of Texas.

 

From a Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) perspective, should, must, and ought-type statements relate to irrational beliefs associated with demandingness. For instance, person X may believe Texas citizens deserve access to abortions while person Y may disagree. Which of these people maintain a rational (logic and reason) claim in support of their beliefs?

 

Surely, person X could maintain that his assumption is logical and reasonable. He may even use the following syllogistic conclusion to support his argument:

 

Form –

If p, then q; if q, then r; therefore, if p, then r.

 

Example –

If healthcare is a human right, then every Texas resident deserves access to abortions. If every Texas resident deserves access to abortions, then no authorities or organizations ought to impede one’s abortive rights. Therefore, if healthcare is a human right, then no authorities or organizations ought to impede one’s abortive rights.

 

Based on faulty premises, the logic follows and seems reasonable. However, person Y could contend with the notion that “healthcare is a human right” (p) and the assertion that “every Texas resident deserves access to abortions” (q). She may disagree based merely on lawful grounds.

 

Moreover, person Y could reject the moralistic proposition that “no authorities or organizations ought to impede one’s abortive rights” (r). While the major premise (p and q) may relate to legislative matters, the minor premise (r) concerns person X’s morally demanding belief.

 

Although person X’s legal claim may be debated among the offices and chambers of the Texas Legislature, supported or rejected by the Governor of Texas, person X’s moral claim isn’t an objectively rational assumption. This isn’t to say his viewpoint is bad or evil.

 

Rather, I’m suggesting that people related to person X’s in-group may agree with him, though people associated with his out-group may vehemently disagree. As such, this is when understanding of the naturalistic and moralistic fallacies may benefit the people X’s and Y’s of the world.

 

For instance, one source states of the naturalistic fallacy:

 

When the conclusion expresses what ought to be, based only on what is, or what ought not to be, based on what is not. This is very common, and most people never see the problem with these kinds of assertions due to accepted social and moral norms. This bypasses reason and we fail to ask why something that is, ought to be that way.

 

The logical form of the naturalistic fallacy is: x is; therefore, x ought to be. Still, things may become a bit confusing when considering the logical form or the moralistic fallacy: x ought to be; therefore, x is.

 

Now, consider how one source describes the moralistic fallacy, “When the conclusion expresses what is, based only on what one believes ought to be, or what isn’t is based on what one believes ought not to be.” Are you confused yet?

 

Think of “is” as it relates to a description. For instance, if I accidentally slice my finger when chopping onions, I’ll likely experience pain. There is no moralizing matter of good, bad, right, wrong, or otherwise involved with my mistake. It simply is the case that pain accompanies my cut.

 

Think of “ought” as it relates to a prescription. For example, when I slice my finger and I unproductively demand that I ought not to have made a mistake, I’m stipulating what action was not to have occurred. In this way, I’ve inferred that my behavior was bad or careless, as is ought not to have been that way. Nevertheless, I cut my finger.

 

One source succinctly summarizes the naturalistic and moralistic fallacies thusly:

 

We can understand the naturalistic fallacy and the moralistic fallacy in terms of the is/ought distinction. The naturalistic fallacy makes an illegitimate inference from is to ought; the moralistic fallacy makes an equally illegitimate inference form ought to is. That is to say, naturalistic thought is vulnerable to concluding that what is, is right, while moralistic thought is vulnerable to concluding that what is right, is.

 

To use a concrete example that supports the abstract example of person X and Y’s abortion theme, consider that one Planned Parenthood source states:

 

On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, removing the federal constitutional right to abortion and allowing states to ban and restrict abortion access. Due to existing Texas laws, abortion is now banned in Texas.

 

Without prescribing what is good, bad, or otherwise—committing a violation of the is-ought problem, consider the fact that there is not now—nor has there ever been—a “constitutional right to abortion.” It simply doesn’t exist.

 

To examine what is not, I invite you to review: The Constitution of the United States: A Transcription. You know what else isn’t mentioned in the Constitution? The Internet, smartphones, or the Blueberry Yum Yum strain of an indica-leaning cross of Blueberry and Durban Poison marijuana strains.

 

One no sooner has a “right” to Blueberry Yum Yum than does one to an abortion, constitutionally speaking. Abortion simply is not in the Constitution; therefore, it is not an enumerated right.

 

One may argue that abortion ought to be a fundamental right, though it literally is not that case—at least as far as United States federal law, and laws governing Texas, are concerned. Given this consideration, person X’s original claim is not a rational argument.

 

To be exceedingly clear, I’m not making a declaration about whether or not I believe abortion ought to be this or that, declaring abortion good or bad, or herein committing any other violation of the is-ought problem. I’m merely describing what is, which I consider the rational thing to do when using psychoeducation about this matter.

 

From an REBT perspective, I realize that people disturb themselves when violating the is/ought distinction. When I assist clients with disputation of their irrational beliefs, in accordance with the ABC model, some individuals cling to their rigid prescriptions to life.

 

Using the belief-consequence connection, people upset themselves by deriving an ought from an is. Person X relentlessly and inflexibly maintains that his moralistic belief is a universal principle and dammit, he’s going to see to it that what he demands ought to be will become what is.

 

Although person X is doubtlessly convicted to his self-disturbing form of demandingness, his irrational perspective isn’t shared by everyone else—nor is it enshrined in law. Until either Texas or federal laws change, person X can adaptively tolerate and accept what merely is.

 

Of course, far be it for me to tell person X or anyone else what ought to be done. People are welcome to disturb themselves if they want to. As for me, I’ll keep in mind the naturalistic and moralistic fallacies regarding my own life. I think you ought to, as well. (See what I did there?)

 

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

 

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

 

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

 

 

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW

 

 

References:

 

Cameron, K. (2023, February 25). Is abortion a constitutional right? Focus on the Family. Retrieved from https://www.focusonthefamily.com/pro-life/is-abortion-a-constitutional-right/

Geopolicraticus. (2011, February 19). The perspective fallacy. Retrieved from https://geopolicraticus.wordpress.com/2011/02/19/the-prescriptive-fallacy/

Hollings, D. (n.d.). Blog – Categories: Disputation. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/blog/categories/disputation

Hollings, D. (2022, June 25). Controversy and challenges to REBT. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/controversy-and-challenges-to-rebt

Hollings, D. (2022, October 31). Demandingness. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/demandingness

Hollings, D. (2022, March 15). Disclaimer. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/disclaimer

Hollings, D. (2023, October 12). Get better. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/get-better

Hollings, D. (n.d.). Hollings Therapy, LLC [Official website]. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/

Hollings, D. (2023, May 18). Irrational beliefs. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/irrational-beliefs

Hollings, D. (2023, September 19). Life coaching. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/life-coaching

Hollings, D. (2023, January 8). Logic and reason. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/logic-and-reason

Hollings, D. (2024, January 1). Psychoeducation. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/psychoeducation

Hollings, D. (2022, March 24). Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT). Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/rational-emotive-behavior-therapy-rebt

Hollings, D. (2024, January 4). Rigid vs. rigorous. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/rigid-vs-rigorous

Hollings, D. (2022, November 1). Self-disturbance. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/self-disturbance

Hollings, D. (2022, October 7). Should, must, and ought. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/should-must-and-ought

Hollings, D. (2023, October 17). Syllogism. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/syllogism

Hollings, D. (2022, November 9). The ABC model. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/the-abc-model

Hollings, D. (2022, December 25). The B-C connection. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/the-b-c-connection

Hollings, D. (2022, December 14). The is-ought problem. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/the-is-ought-problem

Hollings, D. (2023, February 16). Tna. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/tna

Logically Fallacious. (n.d.). Moralistic fallacy. Retrieved from https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/cgi-bin/uy/webpages.cgi?/logicalfallacies/Moralistic-Fallacy

Logically Fallacious. (n.d.). Naturalistic fallacy. Retrieved from https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/cgi-bin/uy/webpages.cgi?/logicalfallacies/Naturalistic-Fallacy

Morris, W. E. (2023, November 1). David Hume. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hume/

National Archives. (n.d.). The Constitution of the United States: A transcription. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved from https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/constitution-transcript

Planned Parenthood Center for Choice. (n.d.). Texas abortion laws. Retrieved from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/planned-parenthood-center-for-choice/texas-abortion-laws

Wikipedia. (n.d.). In-group and out-group. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In-group_and_out-group

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