Many animal rights activists claim that adequate animal housing should be geared towards the natural environment of animals. For example, they claim that monkeys should be not kept within human's houses because their natural environment is the jungle. Therefore, the adequate housing for monkeys should be something which comes as close as possible to a jungle.

Isn't this point of view a result of the naturalistic fallacy? Deriving the view on "what is good" from how something looks in its "natural environment"? Wouldn't it be possible that the life of a monkey (just for this example) is anyhow better in a human's house than in the wild jungle?

Please don't misunderstand this question. It is not my intention to plead for any way of animal or monkey housing. It's just an example and this question is intended to sharp my understanding of the Naturalistic Fallacy.

  • Intesting question and +1, but is there any chance you might be able to tell us a little more about what exactly it is about the fallacy that you might be looking to explore further? In particular, perhaps telling us a little bit more about the context in which you are studying or have encountered it would help us frame answers better. – Joseph Weissman Feb 3 '12 at 0:28
  • I just wondered if the concept of naturalistic fallacy was applicable to such practical examples, or if it just is a more theoretical concept. – Bob Feb 4 '12 at 12:16

The Naturalistic Fallacy is defined as making an argument based on what is naturally the case, and is closely related to the is-ought problem. Your example has elements of both.

The argument can be phrased like this: Since a monkey's natural environment is the jungle, monkeys all ought to live in the jungle.

Both the Naturalistic Fallacy and the is-ought problem are apparent with this wording. The use of "natural environment" as evidence for the argument is the Naturalistic Fallacy, as supporters are arguing that the natural state, "what feels right" or "how the world naturally is," is what must be Good and how things should be.

Now, this can also be considered as a variation of the is-ought argument; the argument states that what is (the monkey's natural environment being a jungle), determines what ought to be (monkeys only living in jungles). This, like the above Naturalistic Fallacy, is unsupported.

Therefore, the answer is yes, the point of view that

Adequate animal housing should be geared towards the natural environment of animals.

Is the result of Naturalistic Fallacy, and is not validly supported (although other evidence may exist). It is entirely possible (yet so far unsupported, as far as I know) that monkeys should live in houses instead; just because they naturally live in jungles is no reason to say that is the best way.

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Whether or not it is a case of the naturalistic fallacy depends entirely upon the reasoning.

For example, this line of reasoning does not contain the naturalistic fallacy: Monkeys have evolved to survive in jungles. Therefore, they will enjoy and seek out those things that are conducive to a successful jungle life, and will dislike and shun those things that threaten a successful jungle life, including those sorts of habitat changes that they were likely to encounter (jungle-savannah, jungle-ocean, etc.). Therefore, in the absence of detailed knowledge of monkey preferences, we should aim to make jungle-like environments to increase the chance that they can engage in those jungle-enabled behaviors that they enjoy while being careful to notice if we accidentally introduce something they hate.

This line of reasoning does contain the naturalistic fallacy: Monkeys are wild animals, and they live in the jungle. They've always lived in the jungle, they've evolved in the jungle, they're jungle animals. Putting monkeys in anything other than a jungle is wrong.

Note the difference: the former uses knowledge of monkey habitat and evolution to suggest why jungle-like housing is likely to have positive aspects for monkeys compared to other forms of housing. The latter simply notices that monkeys are found somewhere in the wild and asserts without justification that you should replicate this when you house them.

Unless you talk to individual animal activists, you are not in a good position to know what fallacy they may or may not have committed. I have talked with both types in the past.

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