Skip to main content

Naturalism and the Idea of Nature

  • Lynne Rudder Baker

There are many versions of naturalism. In contemporary Anglophone philosophy, the dominant versions are forms of scientific naturalism. After discussing three forms of scientific naturalism – eliminative, reductive, and nonreductive naturalism – I turn to the idea of nature that scientific naturalism presupposes, and I argue that the presupposed idea of nature is inadequate: It does not include everything in nature. I shall argue that all forms of naturalism – even so-called liberal naturalism, a nonscientific version – suffer from presupposed and unargued-for closure principles that limit the scope of reality. Finally, I'll briefly discuss my own view that I call ‘near-naturalism’.

Hide All

1 Kim, Jaegwon, ‘The American Origins of Philosophical Naturalism’, The Journal of Philosophical Research: Philosophy in America at the Turn of the Century (2003), 84 .

2 Caro, Mario De and Macarthur, David, ‘Introduction: The Nature of Naturalism’, Naturalism in Question (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 1.

3 Ladyman, James and Ross, Don, Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007). I discuss this book in Ontology, Down-to-Earth’, The Monist 98 (2015), 145–55.

4 Rosenberg, Alex, The Atheist's Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011), 4.

5 Rosenberg, Alex, ‘Disenchanted Naturalism’, Kritikos 12 (2015), 4.

6 Op. cit. note 5, 4

7 Op. cit. note 5, 22.

8 Op. cit. note 5, 7.

9 Op. cit. note 5, 7.

10 The illusion that we can think about things outside the mind, says Rosenberg, ‘gets built up in each brain anew during the developmental ontogeny of every language learning child and has been built up in hominem evolution from grunts, shrieks, eventually clicks and gestures coordinated with behavior, all the way to Chinese characters and Kanji calligraphy’. These features have great adaptive value and perhaps were selected for. Op. cit. note 5, 14.

11 Speaking for myself, I doubt that any nonphilosopher ever thought that introspection tells us anything at all (true or false) about the brain, much less about a language of thought.

12 Also, the error theory does not apply to animals whose behavior seems intentional. What error are they making? And how could fleeing a predator be an error?

13 Searle, John R., Making the Social World. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 3.

14 Searle, John R., ‘Social Ontology: Some Basic Principles’, Anthropological Theory 6 (2006), 13 . My emphasis.

15 Op. cit. note 13, 3.

16 Papineau, David, ‘Causation Is Macroscopic but Not Irreducible’, Mental Causation and Ontology (eds) Gibbs, S., Lowe, E.J. and Ingthorsson, R. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 126151 .

17 Nonreductive naturalists do not rule out the possibility of global supervenience, according to which fixing all the microproperties in the whole world thereby fixes all the macroproperties in that world.

18 Kornblith, Hilary, ‘Naturalism: Both Metaphysical and Epistemological’ ( Philosophical Naturalism: Midwest Studies in Philosophy 19, French, Peter A., Uehling, Theodore E., Wettstein, Howard, eds. (Notre Dame: Notre Dame Press, 1994), 40.

19 Kornblith, Hilary, On Reflection (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 89 n27.

20 Op. cit. note 18, 40.

21 Julian Reiss and Jan Sprenger, ‘Scientific Objectivity’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (ed.) Edward N Zalta (2014) []

22 Nagel, Thomas, The View from Nowhere (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986).

23 Dennett, Daniel C., Consciousness Explained (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1991). I think that ‘third-person’ and ‘first-person’ are correlative terms; so to be accurate, we should speak of objective reality rather than third-person reality, where objective reality is nonpersonal that does not vary with point of view or perspective.

24 Some philosophers (e.g. David Chalmers) may disagree, but I see no reason for disagreement other than a desire to continue to be naturalists while acknowledging first-person properties. No one has produced a first-person science.

25 Op. cit. note 23, 72–79.

26 Hilary Kornblith (personal correspondence, March 17, 2016) took issue with an earlier formulation of this premise. This formulation of the premise should by-pass his objection inasmuch as it is explicitly ontological, and no science has first-personal phenomena in its ontology – not even John Perry. Any third-person investigation of I*-phenomena just changes the subject.

27 Castañeda, Hector-Neri, ‘Indicators and Quasi-Indicators’, American Philosophical Quarterly 4 (1967), 85100 ; Castañeda, Hector-Neri, ‘He: A Study in the Logic of Self-Consciousness’, Ratio 8 (1966), 130157 .

28 My use of ‘I*’ also extends ideas found in Matthews, Gareth, Thought's Ego in Augustine and Descartes (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992).

29 John Perry argued that ‘I’ cannot be eliminated in various contexts, but my point here is that even if ‘I’ were eliminable, ‘I*’ would not be. John Perry argued that ‘I’ cannot be eliminated in various contexts, but my point here is that even if ‘I’ were eliminable, ‘I*’ would not be. ‘I*’ occurs in the content clause of a sentence. A sentence that attributes to the speaker a first-person reference would not be true unless there were a first-person reference. ‘I*’ occurs in the content clause of a sentence. A sentence that attributes to the speaker a first-person reference would not be true unless there were a first-person reference. See Perry, John, ‘The Problem of the Essential Indexical’, Noûs 13 (1979), 321 .

30 Geach, Peter, Mental Acts (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1957), 120.

31 Schlick, Moritz, ‘Meaning and Verification’, Readings in Philosophical Analysis (eds) Feigl, Herbert and Sellars, Wilfrid (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1949), 166.

32 Russell, Bertrand, A History of Western Philosophy (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1945), 567.

33 I think that one insurmountable problem is that no one has come up with a satisfactory semantics for neural mechanisms. Baker, Lynne Rudder, ‘Has Content Been Naturalized? Meaning in Mind: Fodor and His Critics (eds) Loewer, Barry and Rey, Georges, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1991), 1732 .

34 Baker, Lynne Rudder, Naturalism and the First-Person Perspective (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

35 Perry, John, ‘The Sense of Identity’, Identity, Personal Identity and the Self (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2002), 229.

36 Op. cit. note 29.

37 Op. cit. note 35, 239.

38 Lewis, David, ‘Reduction of Mind’, Papers in Metaphysics and Epistemology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 318.

39 Op. cit. note 38, 317.

40 Baker, Lynne Rudder, ‘Cartesianism and the First-Person Perspective’, Phenomenology and Mind 7 (2014), 2030 ; Baker, Lynne Rudder, ‘Beyond the Cartesian Self’, Phenomenology and Mind 1 (2011), 6071 ; Baker, Lynne Rudder, ‘Human Beings as Social Entities’, Journal of Social Ontology 1 (2015), 7787 .

41 Caro, Mario De and Voltolini, Alberto, ‘Is Liberal Naturalism Possible? Naturalism and Normativity (eds) De Caro, Mario and Macarthur, David (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 6986 .

42 Op. cit. note 2, 17.

43 Op. cit. note 41, 70.

44 I definitely intend to include artifacts and artworks within the scope of natural reality. See Baker, Lynne Rudder, ‘The Ontology of Artifacts’, Philosophical Explorations 7 (2004), 99111 .

45 Baker, Lynne Rudder, ‘Practical Realism as Metaphysics’, American Philosophical Quarterly 51 (2014), 1320 .

46 This paper was presented at the conference on Nature and Naturalism at the Gregorian University in Rome on April 18–19, 2016. Thanks are due to its organizer Louis Caruana, SJ, and to my commentator, Josef Quitterer.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0031-8191
  • EISSN: 1469-817X
  • URL: /core/journals/philosophy
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed