Naturalism (philosophy)

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The Naturalism is the view that the world must be understood as a purely given by the natural disaster. This assumption, which is often pointed out by the saying everything is nature , in itself leaves open how the concept of nature is to be defined. If one understands by “nature” only the physical nature, the saying everything is nature results in a materialistic or physicalistic position. Such theories represent that the mind or consciousness is also part of physical nature or, alternatively, does not exist at all or at most as an illusion.

The naturalistic position goes back to Greek antiquity: Nature (physis) here denotes everything that is not created by man. Man himself is a natural being like all other creatures. Later changes to a natural object (e.g. plowing, dismantling, cherishing) did not make it a cultural object . This only applied to the complex assembly of natural components into completely new works (e.g. tools, works of art, buildings). The conception of nature of some ancient philosophers corresponds in a certain way to the intuitive leading category of everyday thinking .

Since the early 17th century, naturalism can be described as any doctrine that declares nature alone as the basis and norm of all phenomena. This arose above all from the motivation to distance oneself from supernatural phenomena in the religious sense. Naturalism understood in this way rejects the existence of miracles and supernatural beings.

In modern naturalistic theories since the beginning of the 20th century, however, the concept of natural science and not the concept of nature is often in the foreground. It is argued that the natural sciences would lead to the fundamental descriptions of the structures of the world and in this sense would be superior to philosophical , humanities and everyday methods. For a naturalist in this sense, the natural sciences are “the measure of all things” for describing and explaining the world.

Features of naturalistic theories

Naturalistic theories share the claim to design a worldview that is based on the explanatory methods of the natural sciences. In this sense, some typical characteristics of naturalism can be identified: realism , physicalism , criticism of religion , reductionism , a limitation to the methods of the natural sciences and a rejection of metaphysics .

However, none of these characteristics seem necessary and consequently very different variants of naturalism are represented. In a general classification of naturalistic positions, a distinction is often made between ontological and methodological naturalism. While ontological naturalism formulates a thesis about the nature of the world (for example: the world consists solely of physical particles and their properties ), methodological naturalism regards the orientation towards the methods of the natural sciences as a central characteristic of naturalism.

A naturalistic image of man first gained greater popularity through Charles Darwin's theory of evolution . Building on this, Marx and Engels also represented a materialistic, scientific worldview. However, Marxism still contains numerous sociological and political components that are not part of naturalism.

Modern naturalistic positions that are based on the findings of evolutionary and human biology and attempt to clarify traditional epistemological, social-scientific and psychological problems with the help of biology are evolutionary epistemology and sociobiology . Such approaches are called biological by their opponents .

The extent to which the naturalistic distinction of the natural sciences can be justified by argument remains in the debate. Anti-naturalists therefore often consider the naturalistic perspective of the world to be an unfounded attitude that is in no way superior to other worldviews or belief systems.

Critique of Religious Ideas

Ludwig Feuerbach developed a naturalistic philosophy of religion. (Engraving by August Weger)

First of all, natural phenomena are often understood in naturalism to distinguish them from religious or mystical phenomena. The religious-critical component of naturalism played a major role, especially in the USA in the first half of the 20th century. The core thesis of this early naturalism is that there are no phenomena that fundamentally oppose a scientific description. Thelma Lavine , for example, explained : "The nerve of the naturalistic principle is that the scientific analysis must not be restricted to a certain area, but can be extended to any area of ​​phenomena."

In relation to religions, this has two consequences. On the one hand, there should be no religious phenomena that cannot be scientifically described. This implies the rejection of an immaterial God , but also of all supernatural phenomena, such as miracles or supernatural experiences. In addition, a naturalism understood in this way also contains the positive thesis of the scientific researchability of religious phenomena. A philosophy of religion naturalized in this sense can be found in Ludwig Feuerbach , who understood religious phenomena as projections that can be explained socio-psychologically . For naturalists, religions as psychological, social or biological phenomena can also be objects of scientific research. Such scientific research takes place in the psychology of religion , for example . A more recent discipline is so-called neurotheology , in which connections between brain processes and religious experiences are to be established.

Even today one can observe that naturalism is associated with an offensively atheistic attitude among its representatives . Examples include Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins . On the other hand, the question of religious phenomena plays only a subordinate role in the current naturalism debate. In particular, one cannot define naturalism by its aspects critical of religion, since most of the contemporary positions critical of naturalism are not linked to religious ideas. So it is often central for the contemporary criticism of naturalism to argue for the autonomy of the cultural and human sciences or to point out the problems of scientific theories of the mind . Another topic of contemporary anti- naturalists is the subjectivity and perspective of modern natural sciences. All of these issues are independent of religious questions, which is why criticism of religion cannot be seen as the defining characteristic of contemporary naturalism. In addition, according to Gerhard Lenski and Robert Merton , among others, religious convictions and denominationally motivated behavior patterns are relevant to the present day, namely Protestantism and Pietism have created essential foundations for today's natural sciences.


A central assumption of most naturalistic theories is also realism : there is a human-independent reality that is discovered and researched in the sciences. For the naturalist, nature is not an invention of the spirit as assumed by subjective idealism . Rather, the mind itself is part of a nature found by man. Since physics, biology or chemistry are supposed to describe real objects and not subjective, intellectual constructions, realism is often an implicit assumption of naturalistic theories. Gerhard Vollmer makes this assumption explicit, since he uses the requirement as much realism as possible to characterize naturalism. He points out, however, that naturalism is not limited to a naive realism that says that the world is exactly as it is perceived. Rather, naturalistic realism seems to lead to many revisions of everyday notions of reality. This results on the one hand from the cognitive science knowledge that in perception or in memory the world is not passively portrayed in the mind, but rather shaped. An example of this is the perception of a moving point, although actually only two lights light up alternately. In his revisionist realism, the naturalist Wilfrid Sellars even went so far as to claim that reality is only described by physics and that in reality there are no everyday objects such as tables, houses or pens.

Naturalistic realism is not only directed against subjective idealism, but also serves to delimit relativistic and subjectivistic theories. The central thesis of relativism is that the truth of a sentence always depends on the historical or social context and therefore there are no universally true sentences. General relativism extends these claims to the natural sciences as well. In this sense, a radical relativist can claim that the sentence “The earth has a spherical shape” is true today, but was wrong in ancient China. In contrast, a typical naturalist will explain that the natural sciences describe objective facts that are independent of social or cultural contexts. The sentence “The earth has a spherical shape” then expresses a universal truth and was as valid in ancient times as it is today.

While realism is a central element of many naturalistic theories, it cannot be seen as a defining characteristic of naturalism. For one thing, it is not clear whether realism is necessary for naturalism. Willard Van Orman Quine , for example, was one of the best-known naturalists of the 20th century. Still, there are doubts as to whether one can call Quine's philosophy “realistic”. Quine understands naturalism essentially as a distinction of scientific research with simultaneous rejection of independent, philosophical methods. Such methodological naturalism does not seem to presuppose any particular, realistic thesis. In addition, realism is certainly not sufficient for naturalism, since there are many realistic, non-naturalistic theories. Traditional Christian theology, for example, is based on realistic metaphysics.

Physicalism and reductionism

Social groups
Elementary particles
Scheme by Oppenheim and Putnam, 1958. The upper layer should be composed of the lower layer and should be able to be reduced to this.

A central claim of naturalistic theories is that the whole world, including humans, is part of the natural order. Such a thesis immediately raises the question of what is meant by “natural order”. Physicalism offers a possible answer to this . According to this thesis, everything there is is physical in nature. Humans and all other living beings also turn out to be a combination of the smallest physical particles. So to be part of the natural order is to be part of the physical order. Physicalism is particularly directed against the idea of ​​an immaterial mind : if everything results from the composition of the smallest physical particles, this must also apply to the mind.

Another interpretation of the claim that everything is part of the natural order is as follows: If something is part of the natural order, then it can at least in principle be explained by the natural sciences. This is the thesis of reductionism . Consistent reductionists assume that, in principle, social or historical phenomena can also be explained with the help of the natural sciences. In addition, reductionism requires that consciousness can be explained scientifically .

Many naturalists profess physicalism and reductionism. If the philosophy of mind speaks of a “naturalization of the mind”, it usually means a reduction. However, the term naturalism is not synonymous with "physicalism" or "reductionism". Some naturalists place orientation on the methods of the natural sciences at the center of their philosophy. For example, Quine explains: “I take physicalism as a scientific position, but scientific reasons could one day dissuade me from it without dissuading me from naturalism”.

Methods of Natural Sciences

In most of the naturalistic conceptions of today, the methods of the natural sciences play a central role. Sellars explains in a famous passage in his work Science, Perception and Reality : "When it comes to describing and explaining the world, the natural sciences are the measure of all things." Such a distinction for the natural sciences can on the one hand go against the strong emphasis on the humanities. or social science approaches. Indeed, many variants of modern history of science or the sociology of science are criticized by naturalists . While it is recognized that the scientific community can also be examined as a social and historical phenomenon, naturalists emphasize that the findings of natural science are more fundamental and cannot be relativized by historical or social contexts. Many naturalists also reject post-structuralist literary theory and cultural studies, as well as psychoanalysis . Nevertheless, a juxtaposition of natural sciences and the “soft sciences” is not at the center of naturalistic theories, and it is mostly argued that naturalism can be combined with respect for the humanities.

The central assumption of methodological naturalism is rather the rejection of an independent, philosophical method that precedes and justifies empirical research. For example, Quine writes of “the knowledge that reality has to be identified within the framework of science itself, not in a previous philosophy” and of “renouncing the goal of a first philosophy preceding natural science.” This means rejecting independent, philosophical methods especially a renunciation of the a priori . A priori knowledge is contrasted with empirical knowledge, since it should be possible independently of experiences of the world. Apriori arguments can be found on the one hand in the great metaphysical systems of the history of philosophy . A classic example of this is Immanuel Kant , who argued in the Critique of Pure Reason that space and time are not components of reality independent of man . However, this can only be shown through an a priori (“ transcendental ”) argument, since all empirical sciences already presuppose space and time. Methodological naturalists want to replace such a priori metaphysics with empirical research. On the other hand, methodological naturalism is also directed against classical analytical philosophy , which assumed that there is an a priori, philosophical method with conceptual analysis. The concept analysis should be a priori, since it refers only to the meaning of the words and not to the world. The classic example of an analytical sentence is "All bachelors are unmarried". If you know the meaning of the words, you know that this sentence is true. There is no need to conduct an empirical study to verify the sentence. In this sense, in analytical philosophy, central philosophical terms such as “ knowledge ” or “ justification ” should be analyzed in an a priori manner.

Naturalists in the Quine tradition reject conceptual analysis as an a priori discipline. In 1951, in the essay Two Dogmas of Empiricism , Quine argued that there is no fundamental distinction between a priori-analytical and empirical-synthetic propositions. Quine later argued that the elimination of a priori knowledge must also lead to the abandonment of traditional, philosophical epistemology : If there is no a priori research into human cognitive faculties, one must limit oneself to empirical research. And empirical research is carried out not through philosophy, but through cognitive psychology . With Quine, the naturalistic epistemology should ultimately be absorbed in empirical cognitive science . Some naturalists, however, do not go that far and simply argue that a modern epistemology must increasingly incorporate the knowledge of the sciences.

Naturalism in Epistemology

Strong epistemological naturalism

In contemporary philosophy , a distinction is often made between a strong and a weak epistemological naturalism. While strong naturalism ultimately seeks to completely dissolve the philosophical analysis of human knowledge in empirical cognitive science , weak epistemological naturalists merely declare that epistemology must be supplemented and changed by empirical research. The classic formulation of the program of strong naturalism can be found in Quine's essay Epistemology Naturalized : “But why all these inventive reconstructions, all these magic? Ultimately, the stimulation of your own sensory receptors is the only thing you had to get your picture of the world. Why not just try to figure out how this construction really works? Why not content yourself with psychology? "

How exactly is one to imagine such a replacement of epistemology by the empirical sciences? The classic example of naturalists here is the analysis of the terms “ knowledge ” and “justification”. Following a suggestion from Plato's Theaetetus , the concept of knowledge was defined in epistemology as a true, justified opinion. Such a conceptual analysis seems very convincing at first glance: If someone knows that Brazil is the most populous country in Latin America, then he must have an opinion accordingly. But just one opinion is not enough, because wrong opinions cannot be spoken of as knowledge. So knowledge is at least true opinion, but even this is not enough. For example, you can have a true opinion about the next lottery number, but that doesn't mean you know what the next lottery number is. One will not speak of “knowledge” here because one cannot give convincing reasons for one's opinion in such a future event. In this sense, classical epistemology assumed that knowledge is to be defined as a true, justified opinion.

In 1963, the philosopher Edmund Gettier published an essay in which he formulated the Gettier problem : There seem to be situations in which a person has a justified, true opinion, but still has no knowledge. The classical analysis of concepts seemed to have failed, and philosophers soon set about proposing new definitions. In 1967, however , Alvin Goldman took the debate in a new direction, arguing that the concept of knowledge cannot be approached by analyzing reasons and rational arguments. Rather, knowledge results from a causal and thus empirically verifiable connection. If you watch the drawing of the lottery numbers and discover that you have won, you will acquire knowledge because there is a reliable, causal connection between the numbers drawn and the opinion acquired. If, on the other hand, you have the true opinion that you will win the lottery with a certain combination of numbers, it is not a question of knowledge, as there is no causal connection between the (not yet drawn) numbers and your own opinion.

Goldman's analysis is naturalistic in that it seeks to determine the terms “knowledge” and “justification” through an empirically verifiable connection. If you want to find out whether a certain opinion is justified or represents knowledge, you don't have to look at a person's reasons and arguments. Rather, one has to check whether the person's opinion is appropriately causal. Strong epistemological naturalists would like to generalize such assertions: the analysis of human knowledge requires nothing more than an investigation of the causal connections between opinions and their causes.

Objection of normativity

Against the concept of naturalistic epistemology, it has often been objected that epistemology and the natural sciences deal with fundamentally different topics. For example, Jaegwon Kim pointed out that epistemology is a normative enterprise. In contrast to descriptive statements, normative statements do not deal with the question of what is the case. Rather, they describe what should be the case. For instance, the statement "Emissions of CO 2 should go back" normative and the statement "Emissions of CO 2 returns" descriptive. Kim now points out that epistemology essentially deals with normative questions, for example it asks the question of what conditions opinions should meet so that they can be accepted as justified. It does not ask the descriptive question according to which criteria people de facto consider statements to be justified. So while epistemology deals with normative questions, the natural sciences are limited to descriptive topics. The natural sciences describe what is the case and not what should be the case.

If one accepts the characterization of epistemology as normative and the natural sciences as descriptive, it is no longer easy to see how epistemology could be replaced by the natural sciences. The natural sciences do not seem to have anything to say about epistemological issues because they deal with a completely different subject. Strong naturalists in the Quine tradition respond to this objection by accepting that the questions of traditional normative epistemology have no place in the program of naturalism. Quine explains that traditional epistemology failed with its program of providing criteria for justifications. Instead of a failed, philosophical program, one should rather orient oneself to what is actually accepted as justification in the sciences.

Such a radical departure from classical epistemology is rejected even by most naturalists. They argue that ultimately one cannot do without the normative question “When should one consider a statement to be justified?”. Scientists too must ask themselves when to consider evidence worth considering and when not. Strong epistemological naturalism is therefore often opposed to a weak naturalism. This does not want to replace normative epistemology with the sciences, but rather to supplement it with empirical knowledge. In this sense Susan Haack writes : “The results of the cognitive sciences can be relevant for the solution of traditional, epistemological problems, and it is legitimate to use them for this.” At the same time, critics of naturalistic theories point out that they do not at all doubt that empirical data play a role in epistemology. As a result, weak epistemological naturalists and critics of naturalism tend to disagree about how big the role of empirical data is in epistemology and where it is useful.

Critique of methodological naturalism

Epistemological naturalism is a central aspect of the more general program of methodological naturalism. Methodological naturalism is defined by its relation to scientific methods. In its strongest variant, he claims that ultimately only the natural sciences lead to true descriptions of the world and that there is no philosophical method independent of the natural sciences. Such a radical naturalism has to put up with the objection of contradiction , since the assertions of methodological naturalism are obviously not scientifically justifiable statements themselves. This problem of radical naturalism is known from the history of positivism and the criteria of meaning formulated in it. Ludwig Wittgenstein explained in the Tractatus , completed in 1918 , that ultimately only empirically verifiable statements make sense. It was clear to him, however, that the sentence "Only empirically verifiable statements are meaningful" cannot itself be empirically verified and must therefore be nonsensical according to its own criteria. Wittgenstein drew the conclusion from this: “My sentences are explained by the fact that those who understand me recognize them as nonsensical in the end. [...] He must overcome these sentences, then he will see the world correctly. ”In this context, Wittgenstein's famous words are usually seen:“ What you cannot talk about, you have to be silent about it. ”

If methodical naturalists want to escape the problem of the early Wittgenstein, various paths are open to them. On the one hand, they can do without general statements of meaning and simply stand behind the methods of the natural sciences without any philosophical justification. In this case, however, it remains unclear why one should particularly prefer scientific methods. If the naturalist declines to justify his distinction with scientific methods, a critic of naturalism can accuse him of unreflective partisanship. Peter Janich explains : In this “case, the naturalist is like a fan of a successful soccer team who joins the triumphant advance through the city”. On the other hand, it is also open to the methodological naturalist to offer a philosophical justification for his distinction of scientific methods. However, this move presupposes that the naturalist restricts the radicality of his thesis. If he provides a philosophical justification for naturalism, he cannot at the same time fundamentally reject philosophical methods. In this sense, Vollmer calls for a minimal metaphysics that excludes the great metaphysical system designs of the history of philosophy. However, such a position must explain how one can separate the acceptable, permissible minimal metaphysics from the unacceptable, general metaphysics.

Naturalism in the Philosophy of Mind

Man himself turns out to be the central “problem” of naturalistic theories. On the one hand, it can be described by the natural sciences; human biology is an obvious example of this. At the same time, the scientific descriptions only seem to cover a part of the human being: humans are natural beings, but at the same time they are cultural beings that organize themselves in social communities, have a history and create art and literature, for example. The cultural aspect, on the other hand, only seems to be understandable because humans are beings with a complex mind - because they can have desires, emotions, thoughts and memories and because they can speak a language by virtue of their mental abilities. It is therefore not enough for a naturalist to refer to human or neurobiological studies of humans. If he wants to represent a general naturalistic program, he must also show that the spiritual aspects do not come into conflict with the naturalistic saying "Everything is nature".

Naturalism also takes various forms in the philosophy of mind . Some naturalistic theories are characterized by a physicalism. Their central thesis is that humans are not composed of a biological-physical body and an immaterial spirit. Rather, in the opinion of physicalistic naturalists, the mind proves to be part of physical reality. A stronger variant of naturalism is reductionism, according to which the mind is not only part of the physical world, but can also be explained by natural science. Many philosophers, however, are of the opinion that physicalistic naturalism must lead to reductionistic naturalism: If the mind is a biological-physical phenomenon, it must be at least principally explained by biology and physics. Occasionally, in the philosophy of mind, the term “naturalism” is used in a much weaker sense, as David Chalmers calls his dualism “naturalistic”. By this, Chalmers means that his conception does not contradict the fundamental assumptions of the natural sciences (such as the law of conservation of energy ) and does not contain any religious assumptions or metaphysical arguments - such as the existence of an immaterial soul .

Three problems of naturalizing the mind

The naturalism of the philosophy of mind is problem-oriented. Naturalists try to identify characteristics of the mind that pose a problem for scientific descriptions. In the following they try to show that these characteristics can be analyzed in the context of a scientific investigation. It is often assumed that there are three critical characteristics of the mind:

  1. Mental processes such as thoughts or memories have a meaning or a semantic content. Because of this meaning, thoughts can be true or false and are accessible for reasons . In contrast, biological or physical processes do not seem to be loaded with meaning. This can be seen, among other things, in the fact that one cannot ask whether a biological process is true. Biological processes are also not guided by reasons, but by causes . Naturalists must therefore ask themselves how the meaning of mental processes can be explained by a scientific analysis. This question is discussed in the philosophy of mind in the tradition of Franz Brentano as a problem of intentionality .
  2. Mental processes are linked to an aspect of experience. It feels a certain way to experience pain, have a coffee, or be tickled. This subjective experience component does not seem to have any place in a biological description. If you look at the biological processes that go on in a person, you will find no explanation for the specific experience of the person. The connection between subjective experience and the objective, scientific description is discussed in philosophy as a quality problem .
  3. Mental processes take place from a certain perspective that can be expressed by the word "I". It is always a subject that feels, wants, knows, thinks or remembers. This perspective-centered mental processes do not seem to be found in biological or physical events. It is true that physical processes can only be perceived from a certain perspective, but a physical process itself does not seem to take place from one perspective. Naturalists therefore have to deal with the question of how perspective, intellectual facts can be explained by non-perspective, physical occurrences. This problem can be clarified by a linguistic-philosophical challenge: The indexical and thus perspective sentence “I'm afraid” cannot be translated into a sentence without the word “I”. If Friedrich Nietzsche utters this sentence, one might first think of the translation "Friedrich Nietzsche is afraid." The two sentences do not have the same meaning, however, Nietzsche could agree to the first sentence and reject the second if he no longer knows that he is Friedrich Nietzsche himself. So you would have to add “... and I am Friedrich Nietzsche.” To the second sentence. That would mean that the word “I” would also be present in the second sentence.


Franz Brentano

The intentionality applies since Brentano as a central feature of the mind. In Psychology from the Empirical Viewpoint , published in 1874 , Brentano stated:

"Every psychic phenomenon is characterized by what the scholastics of the Middle Ages called the intentional (also probably mental) inexistence of an object, and what we, although with not entirely unambiguous expressions, the relation to a content, the direction to an object ( which / here is not to be understood as a reality), or what would be called immanent objectivity. Each contains something as an object in itself, although not each in the same way. Something is presented in the imagination, something is recognized or rejected in the judgment, loved in love, hated in hate , desired in desire, etc. This intentional non-existence is exclusively peculiar to psychic phenomena. No physical phenomenon shows anything like it. " (Italics inserted)

So intentional events are characterized by the fact that they relate to something. Simple examples can make this clear: The thought of the cow in the meadow relates to the cow in the meadow, the memory of the last journey relates to the last journey. Only through this intentional reference can further properties of mental states be understood. Thoughts can be true or false because they relate to something in the outside world. The thought “There is a cow in the meadow” is true if there is really a cow in the meadow, and is wrong if, for example, a horse is mistaken for a cow in the dark. If the naturalization of the mind is disputed in the philosophy of mind, the question is usually about a scientific explanation of intentionality. See also the connection between the signified and the signified .

Brentano explains that intentionality is a characteristic of psychic phenomena, while physical phenomena are non-intentional. Although physical events have cause-and- effect relationships , they do not intentionally relate to an object or a state of affairs . This can also be illustrated by examples: If a person thinks “Herodotus was a historian”, he is referring to Herodotus and his thought is true because Herodotus was actually a historian. However, the neural (or even physical) events in the person do not seem to relate to Herodotus. It seems that therefore one cannot say that neural (or physical) events are true or false. What should it mean to say, "This neuron firing is wrong"? If naturalists want to avoid an irreducible, mental intentionality, they have to explain how intentional, psychological events result from non-intentional, biological or physical events.

A popular starting point for naturalistic conceptions of intentionality is the concept of representation . In the meantime, representation is also often used in psychology, artificial intelligence and neuroscience . It is therefore natural for a naturalist to assert that if a state is intentional, then it is a representation. Since there are also neuronal representations, one can trace intentional states back to the corresponding representations in the brain. So there is the thought “There is a cow in the meadow” because there is an internal representation of a cow in a meadow. However, it cannot be done with the reference to representations. If one does not want to simply postpone the problem, one has to offer a naturalistic interpretation of the concept of representation. This is where the theory of the philosopher and cognitive scientist Jerry Fodor comes in. The simplified thesis is: A state X represents another state Y if X is caused by Y. If a certain condition in a system is caused by cows in meadows, then this condition represents cows in meadows. According to Fodor, the thought “there is a cow in the meadow” gets its intentional content because it is caused by cows in meadows. However, Fodor himself sees that his analysis leads to problems. The thought “There is a cow in the meadow” can also be caused by a horse in poor visibility conditions. Given such a causal connection, how can one explain that the thought is about a cow and not a horse? Fodor has developed proposed solutions for this problem, but it remains controversial whether a causal analysis of intentionality is possible.

The philosopher Daniel Dennett believes that Fodor's approach is ultimately doomed to failure. According to Dennett, as a naturalist one does not have to offer an explanation for intentional states, since they are nothing more than useful fictions. According to Dennett, thoughts or wishes are not part of an objective reality at all , but fictions that can be used to predict behavior. Dennett tries to justify his thesis by pointing out various attitudes that one can adopt towards a system. First of all, there is a physical attitude: you can describe a system in terms of its physical properties and thus predict its behavior. However , it is often not possible to predict the behavior of a system in a physical setting due to reasons of complexity. At this point, one can resort to a functional setting : in order to understand a watch and predict its behavior, one only needs to know the operating method and the principles of the construction plan; the specific physical conditions for its functioning can be neglected. But sometimes systems are even too complex to be dealt with in a functional setting. This applies to humans and animals, for example. This is where the intentional attitude comes into play : the behavior of a system is explained by giving it thoughts. This is how one predicts the behavior of chess computers: "He thinks that I want to sacrifice the rook." Nevertheless, a chess computer does not have any mysterious, mental states that would pose a challenge to naturalism. The use of intentional vocabulary is a pragmatic strategy for predicting behavior. According to Dennett, it is no different with humans; strictly speaking, there are no intentional states that would pose a problem for naturalism. Fodor, for example, has objected to Dennett's approach that he cannot explain why the intentional attitude is so successful. It is incomprehensible that thought-based psychology works so well when there are actually no thoughts and wishes at all. Dennett has also significantly weakened his approach.

There is still great disagreement in the philosophy of mind about how to properly deal with the phenomenon of intentionality. Ruth Millikan and David Papineau , for example, try to explain intentional states through an evolutionary analysis. Patricia and Paul Churchland want to replace all everyday psychology (including all intentional terms) with a scientific language and explain theorists critical of naturalism such as Hilary Putnam and John Searle that the whole program of naturalizing the mind should be abandoned.

Naturalism in Metaethics and Ethics

The term "naturalism" has two different meanings in connection with ethics :

  • For ethicists and language analytical philosophers, “ naturalism ” is the technical term for a direction in metaethics .
  • Biologists and evolution theorists are discussing what place ethics has in a naturalistic worldview. Followers of evolutionary epistemology or evolutionary psychology try to derive an evolutionary ethics from it. This belongs to applied ethics, i. H. deals with the determination of standards. This raises the metaethical question of the relationship between the normative, moral statements and the descriptive descriptions of the natural sciences.

See also


  • Mario de Caro, David Macarthur: Naturalism in Question. Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Mass.) 2004. Edited volume with 14 mostly recent contributions to the debate by Putnam, Price, McDowell, Stroud, Cavell and others. a.
  • A. Corradini, S. Galvan, EJ Lowe (Eds.): Analytic Philosophy Without Naturalism. London 2006
  • Daniel C. Dennett : Darwin's Dangerous Legacy: Evolution and the Purpose of Life. Hoffmann and Campe, Hamburg 1997, ISBN 3-455-08545-8 . Biological naturalism including the assumption of a cultural evolution ( meme )
  • Bernd Goebel , Anna Maria Hauk, Gerhard Kruip (Ed.): Problems of Naturalism. mentis, Paderborn 2005, ISBN 3-89785-243-8 . Anthology on the criticism of naturalism from a philosophical point of view
  • Ludger Honnefelder , Matthias C. Schmidt (ed.): Naturalism as a paradigm. How far does the scientific explanation of man extend? University Press, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-940432-11-7 . Various contributions to specific problem areas such as medical explanations
  • Geert Keil , Herbert Schnädelbach (Ed.): Naturalism. Philosophical contributions. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 2000, ISBN 3-518-29050-9 . Current anthology with contributions by naturalists and anti-naturalists
  • Geert Keil: Critique of Naturalism. Verlag de Gruyter, Berlin 1993, ISBN 3-11-013865-4 . Extensive Critique of Naturalism
  • Christoph Lütge , Gerhard Vollmer (Ed.): Facts instead of norms? On the role of individual scientific arguments in a naturalistic ethics. Nomos, Baden-Baden 2004, ISBN 3-8329-0939-7 . Anthology on the discussion of naturalism in ethics
  • David Papineau : Philosophical Naturalism. Blackwell, Oxford 1993, ISBN 0-631-18903-3 . General defense of weak naturalism
  • Roy Wood Sellars : Evolutionary naturalism. Chicago and London, 1922, Naturalism Classics
  • Thomas Sukopp, Gerhard Vollmer (ed.): Naturalism: Positions, Perspectives, Problems. Mohr-Siebeck, Tübingen 2007, ISBN 3-16-149380-X . Anthology with programmatic contributions by well-known representatives and critics of naturalism
  • Gerhard Vollmer : Key questions to the naturalist. Alibri, Aschaffenburg 2013, ISBN 978-3-86569-204-7 . Generally understandable overview of the basic positions of naturalism
  • Hans-Jürgen Wendel: The limits of naturalism. Mohr-Siebeck, Tübingen 1997, ISBN 3-16-146721-3 . Critical discussion of epistemological naturalism

Web links


  1. Gregor Schiemann : 1.5 Nature - Culture and its other. In: Friedrich Jaeger u. Burkhard Liebsch (Hrsg.): Handbuch der Kulturwissenschaften, Volume 1: Fundamentals and key terms. JB Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2004, ISBN 3-476-01881-4 , p. 64.
  2. a b Wilfrid Sellars : Science, Perception and Reality. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London 1963, ISBN 0-924922-50-8 , p. 173.
  3. ^ About Paul Feyerabend : Knowledge for free people . Changed edition. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt 1980, ISBN 3-518-11011-X , p. 45.
  4. John Ryder: American philosophic naturalism in the twentieth century. Prometheus Books, Amherst 1994, ISBN 0-87975-894-5 .
  5. ^ Thelma Lavine : Naturalism and the Sociological Analysis of Knowledge. In: Yervant Krikorian: Naturalism and the Human Sprit. Columbia University Press, New York 1944, p. 185.
  6. ^ Gerhard Lenski: The Religious Factor: A Sociological Study of Religion's Impact on Politics, Economics, and Family Life . Doubleday US, 1961.
  7. ^ I. Bernard Cohen (Ed.): Puritanism and the Rise of Modern Science: the Merton Thesis. Rutgers University Press, 1990, ISBN 0-8135-1530-0 .
  8. ^ Piotr Sztomka: Robert K. Merton. In: George Ritzer (Ed.): Blackwell Companion to Major Contemporary Social Theorists. Blackwell Publishing, 2003, ISBN 1-4051-0595-X , Google Print, p. 13.
  9. a b Gerhard Vollmer : What is naturalism? In: Geert Keil , Herbert Schnädelbach (Ed.): Naturalism. Philosophical contributions. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 2000, ISBN 3-518-29050-9 , pp. 46-67.
  10. ^ Nelson Goodman : Ways of Worldmaking. Hackett, Indianapolis 1978, ISBN 0-915144-52-2 .
  11. ^ Wilfrid Sellars: Science, Perception and Reality. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London 1963, ISBN 0-924922-50-8 .
  12. a b c d Willard van Orman Quine : Naturalized epistemology. In: ders .: Ontological relativity and other writings. Reclam, Stuttgart 1975, p. 105.
  13. Willard van Orman Quine: Naturalism - or: Don't live beyond your means. In: Geert Keil, Herbert Schnädelbach (Ed.): Naturalism. Philosophical contributions. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 2000, ISBN 3-518-29050-9 , p. 121.
  14. A classic example here is the Sokal affair .
  15. Holm Tetens : The moderate naturalism of the sciences. In: Geert Keil, Herbert Schnädelbach (Ed.): Naturalism. Philosophical contributions. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 2000, ISBN 3-518-29050-9 , pp. 273-288.
  16. ^ Willard van Orman Quine: Theories and Things. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main, p. 35, p. 89.
  17. ^ Willard van Orman Quine: Two Dogmas of Empiricism. In: Philosophical Review , 1951.
  18. See for example: Mircea Flonta : Moderate and radical epistemological naturalism. In: Geert Keil, Herbert Schnädelbach (Ed.): Naturalism. Philosophical contributions. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 2000, ISBN 3-518-29050-9 , pp. 163-186.
  19. ^ Edmund Gettier : Is Justified True Belief Knowledge? In: Analysis , 1963.
  20. ^ Alvin Goldman : A Causal Theory of Knowing. In: The Journal of Philosophy , 1967, p 335-372.
  21. Jaegwon Kim : What Is Naturalized Epistemology? In: Philosophical Perspectives, 1988.
  22. ^ Susan Haack : Evidence and inquiry: towards reconstruction in epistemology. Blackwell, Oxford 1996, ISBN 0-631-19679-X .
  23. ^ Ludwig Wittgenstein : Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus , 1922, sections 6.54 and 7.
  24. Peter Janich : Scientism and Naturalism. In: Geert Keil, Herbert Schnädelbach (Ed.): Naturalism. Philosophical contributions. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 2000, ISBN 3-518-29050-9 , p. 291.
  25. For a discussion of the pair of terms “ culture ” - “nature” from a perspective critical of naturalism see Dirk Hartmann and Peter Janich (eds.): Die kulturalistische Wende - for orientation of the philosophical self-understanding. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1998, ISBN 3-518-28991-8 .
  26. Jaegwon Kim: The Myth of Nonreductive Materialism. In: Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association , 1989.
  27. ^ David Chalmers : The Conscious Mind. Oxford University Press, Oxford 1996, ISBN 0-19-511789-1 .
  28. Wolfgang Barz gives an overview: The problem of intentionality. Mentis, Paderborn 2004, ISBN 3-89785-178-4 .
  29. An overview is given by Heinz-Dieter Heckmann , Sven Walter (Ed.): Qualia. Selected contributions. Mentis, Paderborn 2001, ISBN 3-89785-184-9 .
  30. Central texts on this problem can be found in: Manfred Frank : Analytical Theories of Self-Consciousness. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt, ISBN 3-518-28751-6 .
  31. ^ Franz Brentano : Psychology from the empirical standpoint. 1874, p. 124.
  32. Jerry Fodor : Psychosemantics. The problem of meaning in the philosophy of mind. 3. print. MIT Press, Cambridge 1993, ISBN 0-262-06106-6 .
  33. ^ Daniel C. Dennett : The intentional stance. 7. printing. MIT Press, Cambridge Mass. 1998, ISBN 0-262-54053-3 .
  34. Jerry Fodor: Fodor's Guide to Mental Representations. In: Mind , 1985.
  35. ^ Daniel Dennett: Real Patterns. In: The Journal of Philosophy , 1991.
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on September 26, 2007 .