Sophia: An African Journal of Philosophy

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An evaluation of ethical naturalism

Nwachukwu Maxwell Anyim


There are various strands of naturalism but the focus of this paper is on ethical naturalism. In the field of philosophy, naturalism has made postulations in the areas of metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. As a realist theory, it seeks to examine the nature of reality, knowledge and the sets of principles which guide human conduct. The major thesis of naturalism is that all things are part of nature which can be subjected to the rigours of science. It promotes propositional knowledge in all spheres such that meaningful statements must be expressed as observation – statements whether in religion, metaphysics, ethics or social science. Naturalism is not a new theory as it dates back to antiquity. However, it acquired an enhanced status in the modern and contemporary periods because of the influence of science. Thus, proponents of ethical naturalism simply see ethical statements as propositions which are either true or false. The implication is that there are no differences between ethical statements and empirical or scientific statements. This paper argues that, although there may be some merits in borrowing some of the principles and methods of science in the analysis of ethical statements, it is wrong to equate ethical statements (especially normative statements) to propositional statements of empirical science.

Keywords: Ethical; Naturalism; Realism; Normative; Right; Wrong

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