- 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).
- So understood, “naturalism” is not a particularly informative term as applied to contemporary philosophers. The great majority of contemporary philosophers would happily accept naturalism as just characterized — that is, they would both reject “supernatural” entities, and allow that science is a possible route (if not necessarily the only one) to important truths about the “human spirit”.
- Even so, this entry will not aim to pin down any more informative definition of “naturalism”. It would be fruitless to try to adjudicate some official way of understanding the term. Different contemporary philosophers interpret “naturalism” differently. This disagreement about usage is no accident. For better or worse, “naturalism” is widely viewed as a positive term in philosophical circles — few active philosophers nowadays are happy to announce themselves as “non-naturalists”. This inevitably leads to a divergence in understanding the requirements of “naturalism”. Those philosophers with relatively weak naturalist commitments are inclined to understand “naturalism” in an unrestrictive way, in order not to disqualify themselves as “naturalists”, while those who uphold stronger naturalist doctrines are happy to set the bar for “naturalism” higher.
- Rather than getting bogged down in an essentially definitional issue, this entry will adopt a different strategy. It will outline a range of philosophical commitments of a generally naturalist stamp, and comment on their philosophical cogency. The primary focus will be on whether these commitments should be upheld, rather than on whether they are definitive of “naturalism”. The important thing is to articulate and assess the reasoning that has led philosophers in a generally naturalist direction, not to stipulate how far you need to travel along this path before you can count yourself as a paid-up “naturalist”.
- As indicated by the above characterization of the mid-twentieth-century American movement, naturalism can be separated into an ontological and a methodological component.
Correspondingly, this entry will have two main sections, the first devoted to ontological naturalism, the second to methodological naturalism.
- The ontological component is concerned with the contents of reality, asserting that reality has no place for “supernatural” or other “spooky” kinds of entity.
- By contrast, the methodological component is concerned with ways of investigating reality, and claims some kind of general authority for the scientific method.
- Of course, naturalist commitments of both ontological and methodological kinds can be significant in areas other than philosophy. The modern history of psychology, biology, social science and even physics itself can usefully be seen as hinging on changing attitudes to naturalist ontological principles and naturalist methodological precepts. This entry, however, will be concerned solely with naturalist doctrines that are specific to philosophy. So
- the first part of this entry, on ontological naturalism, will be concerned specifically with views about the general contents of reality that are motivated by philosophical argument and analysis. And
- the second part, on methodological naturalism, will focus specifically on methodological debates that bear on philosophical practice, and in particular on the relationship between philosophy and science.
- Ontological Naturalism
- 1.1 Making a Causal Difference
- 1.2 Modern Science and Causal Influence
- 1.3 The Rise of Physicalism
- 1.4 Reductive and Non-Reductive Physicalism
- 1.5 Physicalist Downwards Causation
- 1.6 Conscious Properties and the Causal Closure Arguments
- 1.7 Moral Facts
- 1.8 Mathematical Facts
- Methodological Naturalism
- 2.1 Philosophy and Science
- 2.2 Philosophical Intuitions: Analytic or Synthetic?
- 2.3 The Canberra Plan
- 2.4 A Priori Synthetic Intuitions?
- 2.5 The Role of Thought Experiments1
- 2.6 Mathematical, Modal and Moral Knowledge
First published Thu Feb 22, 2007; substantive revision Tue Sep 15, 2015
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