Critical Thinking: Fallacies from Relevance VI
Fallacies from Relevance
A fallacy from relevance occurs when the response to a conclusion or an argument is not relevant to the conclusion or argument. These are fallacies that ignore the point at hand and attempt to derail the argument by bringing irrelevancies into the arena of the debate. In this post, I will discuss the Naturalistic Fallacy.
Fundamentally, there are two different types of statement. First, there are statements of fact which describe the way that the world is. Second, there are statements of value which describe the way that the world ought to be.
The naturalistic fallacy is the alleged fallacy of inferring a statement of the latter kind from a statement of the former kind. Simply put, the naturalistic fallacy occurs when one implies a statement of value from a statement (or statements) of fact.
Logical arguments cannot introduce completely new terms in their conclusions. For example, the argument, “(1) All men are mortal, (2) Socrates is a man, therefore (3) Socrates is a philosopher” is clearly invalid; the conclusion obviously doesn’t follow (is non sequiter) from the premises. This is because the conclusion contains an idea—that of being a philosopher—that isn’t contained in the premises; the premises say nothing about being a philosopher, and so cannot establish a conclusion about being a philosopher.
Arguments that commit the naturalistic fallacy are arguably flawed in exactly the same way. An argument whose premises merely describe the way that the world is, but whose conclusion describes the way that the world ought to be, introduce a new term in the conclusion in just the same way as the above example. If the premises merely describe the way that the world is then they say nothing about the way that the world ought to be. Such factual premises cannot establish any value judgement; you can’t get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’.
- Feeling envy is perfectly natural
- (Therefore) There is nothing wrong with feeling envy.
This argument moves from a statement of fact to a value judgement, and therefore commits the naturalistic fallacy. The argument’s premise simply describes the way that the world is, asserting that it is natural to feel envious. To describe the way that the world is, though, is to say nothing of the way that it ought to be. The argument’s conclusion, which is value judgement, cannot then be supported by its premises.
Recognizing truth is an essential survival tool for the mind, and ultimately, for the soul. It is vital that believers weigh the so-called “wisdom” of the world on the perfect scale of authoritative scripture. (I Corinthians 1:19-21)
Teaching our children the ability to recognize fallacies of this type, giving them the intellectual skill to deconstruct these types of arguments, will ensure that the arguments they, themselves, will one day make are at least valid and thoughtfully arrived upon. It will also assist them to investigate more deeply into the conclusions espoused by those in the world whose motives might not come from love and might not have been very carefully arrived at or well researched.
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