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Naturalism Defined

By admin - Posted on 14 November 2010

[Nanook is taking with Father Vincent.]

Naturalism Defined
“Now, let’s go down the NO-FREEWILL road a way. There is a branch of philosophy called NATURALISM that considers how people would interact and the moral implications if there was no freewill. Naturalism starts from the assumption that the human mind is an electro-chemically based computer. From the day a person is born, their brain learns based on personal experiences in their environment and their genetic construction. Decisions are the result of the brain processing new sensory inputs against existing memories and mental models.

The important statement of this philosophy is that humans DON’T really have free will in an absolute sense. Our brain can send us emotions that give us an illusion of free will, but the process is really very similar to what goes on in animals. Humans just have a much more complex symbolic processing ability.”

"So, theoretically, if we could know a person’s complete mental state, we would know how they are going to respond to any situation.”

"Precisely! The brain is just a cause and effect machine that processes patterns. Without recourse to some independent thinking process outside ourselves, that the brain somehow has access to, we cannot even define free will for humans in an absolute sense.

Now, the important implication of Naturalism is that, without free will, there are no grounds to hold anyone morally responsible for their actions.”

"Huh?? Then what about punishment? What about prisons?”

"I know it sounds outlandish, but the people who believe in this philosophy make a good case. They say we have been brainwashed by centuries of ignorance and the authoritarian model. To give naturalism a fair hearing, you have to start with an open mind. You have to ask whether the world we now live in is just one more type of stable philosophy.”

"But how can a society without moral responsibility work?”

"In fact, there have been a number of books written that explore this possibility. One is called Erewhon, by Samuel Butler, written in 1872. The title is a play on the word ‘nowhere’ written backwards. Another book is Gifts from Eykis, by Dr. Wayne Dyer. Let’s go through an example to give you an idea how it can work.

Exercise in naturalism

You brought up prisons and punishment. According to Naturalism, we can’t hold people morally responsible for actions we call crimes. If there is no free will, then the concept of punishment is not justified. Naturalism would say that the person was driven to act this way by the environment society provided him to grow up in and currently lives in. BUT, that doesn’t mean society can’t take ANY action in response to what could still be called a crime.

What if punishment is replaced with a concept of social order based on protection and rehabilitation. If a person commits a crime, rather than being punished, they could just be isolated from others. This would be justified based on recognition that they were brought up in an environment that led them to unacceptable behaviors. So, they would be isolated to protect others. They can also agree to behavioral modification to develop better behavior patterns which would allow them to rejoin society.”

"OK. I understand this. Society would take similar actions, just for different reasons.”

“Precisely! Let’s look at another example. Let’s be extreme. Murder, for example. A Naturalism society could also have prisons. They would be justified as facilities to isolate people with certain behaviors from the rest of society so they couldn’t do more harm, rather than as punishment. NO moral justification involved. Totally practical. Someone convicted of murder would be sent to a prison. The irony of this is that, even with such a very different fundamental basis, a very similar outcome could occur. But being very much more conscious about the role our world has on shaping character, not only would more emphasis be placed on better social conditions to begin with, they would probably have workable methods to help prisoners get back on the right track. Sentencing would no longer be based on punishment as atonement for the impact of the crime. It would be entirely based on the response of the criminal to rehabilitation.”

"Actually, this is pretty neat. It’s pretty clear that the use of prisons in our society as a deterrent, or punishment, is a complete failure to stop crime or remediate criminals.”

“And that’s what naturalism explores."