Vacation and the Naturalist Fallacy

Just a note to those interested in any ongoing argument here at the my Journal that this is vacation week for me, and I have been out of communication for several days, and shall be for several more.

Lest I be misunderstood, one of the ongoing conversations concerned a question of Natural Law, where I asked the gentleman (or lady, or robot. On the Internet, one never knows) named wrf3 if he had an obligation to answer me honestly, and I assured him I would not answer him honestly in the absence of such an obligation.

After some hemming and hawing, distraction and diversion, he did sort of provide two answers, one in terms of game theory, saying that if it were my purpose to communication, then honest communication is a logical necessity, and one in terms of saying that I had a contract with Jesus Christ to be honest to those who treated me dishonestly. This, I admit, may not have been quite his point, but he expresses himself so elliptically that I assume I can be forgiven for assuming.

Oddly enough, he DID answer, albeit he phrased his reply in gibberish without realizing what he was saying. But, a deal is a deal (or so the maxims of the Natural Law state) and so I am required to answer.

My lack of an answer was not due to his failure to live up to his side of the deal, but was due to no access to computers.

This one evening only, I waste an hour out of a sense of duty to reply:

Please notice that both these responses from wrf3 presuppose the Natural Law and are meaningless without it.

To express that if one has a given purpose then to act rationally in reference to that purpose may be true as a statement of fact, but it is not a maxim of behavior, not an imperative, unless one first assumes an imperative to do the purpose proposed, and one assumes (as I do) a moral duty to be rational, that all one’s act be non-self-defeating.

To express that one should obey a sovereign, human or divine, or to abide by a covenant or contract likewise is meaningless unless one first assumes a maxim of behavior, namely, an imperative that one ought to obey legitimate authority, one ought be true to one’s oaths or covenants.

If there is any other basis on which a maxim of behavior, that is, an imperative statement, can be made except on the basis of an axiom containing an imperative, I cannot imagine it, and I challenge any reader to provide me with an example otherwise.

The problem here is that my interlocutor is confused by the use of the term Natural Law for the exact reasons I outlined in my original post on the subject. He keeps thinking of it in terms of an algorithm.

I will say again: “Natural Law” is a term of art. It has a specific meaning in philosophy.

If the term confuses, I propose any other just as clear will do. Let us call it Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes. Or, following CS Lewis, let us call it “The Tao.”

For those unfamiliar with what these maxims might be, even though you use them, I point you to Mr Lewis’ adroit but not exhaustive collection:

This will at least make statements asking that we use the Natural Law to deduce Positive Law from Nature look like the nonsense they are: no one assumes the word “Tao” refers to a set of lines of instructions in a computer.

Tao does not mean a fact from which all men deduce the same moral imperative.

The whole conversation is based on wrf3 making an odd and unanswerable request that I somehow overcome the Naturalist Fallacy and deduce an “ought” from an “is” that is, deduce an imperative from an indicative. Since I have not said such a thing is possible, and since whether it is possible or not has no bearing on the existence of the Tao, I have seen no way to respond other than to point at examples of where wrf3 uses the Tao without (apparently) being aware of it.

In fact, I would argue that it is impossible. Traditionally, deducing a moral maxim from a naked statement of fact is held to be impossible: it is called “the Naturalist Fallacy.” This is the fallacy wrf3 is both making and asking me to make, and declaring himself vindicated when I fail to make it.

He apparently thinks the claim “Natural Law exists” is the same as saying “All men, adult or child, sane or not, can and do and must deduce the same maxim of behavior from the same naked fact.” I say ‘apparently’ because otherwise I cannot guess what his argument might be.

Logically, an imperative can be in the  conclusion if and only if an imperative is in the major or minor premise.


1. When the alarm rings, all hands ought to man their battle stations. (imperative statement)

2. The alarm has rung. (indicative statement)

3. All hand ought to man their battle stations.(imperative statement)

If we are given the minor premise only (the alarm has rung) without the major premise (When the alarm rings, all hands ought to man their battle stations) then the conclusion cannot and does not logically follow.

Now, I said that if wrf3 did not or could not answer the question as to whether I owed him a duty of answering honestly, I would not answer honestly. This is because both he and I recognize that there is such a duty.

If what I have written above is not a sufficient answer to wrf3, I will respond further to any honest (that is, non-rhetorical) questions asked.

As for the various straw-man arguments, nonsense, sophistry, and pretending I said things I did not say, that I will not waste time refuting point by point. I assume my honest readers, if curious, can reread my words and discover if they are being misconstrued. My dishonest readers I have less concern for.

For example, in law, we do not hold children under the age of reason to task for their actions, no do we hold madmen unable to reason. So when I say the Natural Law is known to sane adults, I say only that. wrf3 concludes that I have said something else, and that this proves either that I am evading the issue, or I am not using proper statistical methods, or I am eating pork on a Sunday, or some other nonsense entirely unrelated to the issue. I ignore such remarks as irrelevant. No one should interpret my silence in this case as the absence of a refutation; rather, I am not convinced that anyone whatsoever believes the accusation, not even he who made it.