Types of Naturalism (A brief guide)

In this guide, we will discuss Types of Naturalism, a bit of historical background, what is considered as Naturalism, Metaphysical Naturalism vs Methodological Naturalism and some arguments in favour and against naturalism.

Types of Naturalism

We can find several types of naturalism such as:

  • Metaphysical naturalism which is the belief that argues nature is all that exists and all the things considered supernatural such as deities, gods, spirits, etc., do not exist. 
  • Methodological naturalism is the belief that assumes how the observable events in nature can only be explained by natural causes, without assuming either the existence or non-existence of supernatural phenomena. Additionally, considers supernatural explanations to be outside of the scientific method, which is considered to be the only effective way to investigate reality. 
  • Humanistic Naturalism argues that the use of scientific methodology is the way we can control and understand the world. However, concepts such as spirituality or intuition cant progress beyond personal opinion. Everything known is accounted as the result of explainable processes within natural laws, nothing lying outside. 
  • Moral Naturalism is considered a meta-ethical theory that argues ethical terms can be defined without the use of ethical terms such as good or bad. Additionally, these non-ethical terms refer to natural properties. 
  • Sociological Naturalism is the sociological theory that argues how the natural world and the social world seem roughly identical and governed by similar principles. This view is said to be closely related to positivism, which supports the use of the scientific methodology of natural sciences in studying social phenomena.

Methodological Naturalism subtypes

From Methodological Naturalism we can also find two subtypes, such as:

  • Absolute Methodological Naturalism, which argues that in a way it seems impossible for any empirical method to discover supernatural facts, even if they exist. 
  • Contingent Methodological Naturalism argues that past experiences (empirical methods) are more likely to uncover natural facts than supernatural ones. This means that it seems like a waste of resources to pursue supernatural explanations or hypotheses. However, it wouldn’t be impossible to confirm them empirically if any explanations were found.

Ontological Naturalism vs Methodological Naturalism

As indicated on plato.stanford.edu, “A central thought in ontological naturalism is that all Spatio-temporal entities must be identical to or metaphysically constituted by physical entities. Many ontological naturalists thus adopt a physicalist attitude to mental, biological, social and other such “special” subject matters”. From the ontological perspective, it seems there are nothing more to the mental, biological and social realms than arrangements of physical entities.

In contrast, methodological naturalism is understood as a view about the philosophical practice where philosophy and science are both concerned about establishing synthetic knowledge about the natural world.

Types of Naturalism (A brief guide)

What is naturalism?

Naturalism is the doctrine that argues nature is all that exists and supernatural things do not. This point of view holds that any mental properties are casually derived from (ontologically dependent) systems of non-mental properties where all the contents and effects of the mind are constructed from or caused by natural phenomena. 

However, for some naturalists, what we know as ‘supernatural’ is part of the natural world. Additionally, different varieties of Metaphysical Naturalism can be separated into Physicalism (or Materialism) and Pluralism.

Naturalism is said to reject any kind of Theism and Atheism. However, the opposite of Naturalism is believed to be Supernaturalism which accepts the existence of supernatural phenomena or supernatural beings, including but not limited to magical objects. 

Physicalism

Physicalism argues that everything that exists is no more extensive than its physical properties, meaning substance is physical. Subsequently, everything that can be observed is a product of mindless arrangements or interactions of matter and energy in space-time. 

Pluralism

Pluralism argues that reality consists of many substances in addition to those fundamentally mindless arrangements or the interactions of matter and energy in space-time. 

History of Naturalism

Since ancient Greek times, pre-socratic philosophers (i.e. Thales, Anaxagoras, Democritus) were believed to follow a naturalistic point of view, labelling them as natural philosophers since they aimed to explain everything from natural causes alone. Subsequently, they rejected the role of gods, deities, spirits or magical beliefs in the creation of the world. 

Epicureanism rises then to seek explanations of everything that exists as a product of atoms moving in a void. Additionally, advanced Aristotelianosm develops to explain everything that exists as the inevitable outcome of uncreated natural forces or tendencies (Philosophybasics.com).

During medieval times, there was a debate over the status of universals and the nature of the intellect. Concepts like the will and the soul were of special interest and in part, it had to do with their significance for issues in natural theology. Additionally, questions around the topics of mind and body  (or soul and body) started to become popular and of interest for theologists and philosophers. 

In the early modern period, debates about the prospective roles of reason and senses in knowledge were especially important. There was a revived interest in scepticism and the possibility of knowledge. Additional debates concerning determinism and free will also gain importance and the interest of many. 

Arguments in favour of Naturalism

The argument of precedent has an empirical background where empirical methods have consistently acknowledged the existence of natural things and causes. However, we can presume that if there is an unexplained fact and it has a natural explanation then it becomes a fact only if it can be empirically proven (unless proven otherwise).

Another argument would be the argument from best explanation as indicated on philosophybasics.com, “Sound naturalist hypotheses about scientifically unexplained facts still out-perform all other hypotheses in explanatory scope and power, and have to resort to fewer ad hoc assumptions than any supernatural alternatives.”

Additionally, the argument from absence indicates that the supernatural does exist but it is said to be silent and inert which means its effects can go unnoticed or never observed, despite having an extensive search. 

Another important argument would be the argument of physical minds. Scientific evidence supports the argument that the human mind is the result or product of a functioning brain. Additionally, it is believed that the brain is entirely constructed from different interacting physical systems that evolved over time.  

Types of Naturalism (A brief guide)

Arguments against Naturalism

Most of the arguments against Naturalism, are to an extent, arguments related to the existence of a God or for some kind of intelligent design. One of the first arguments is the argument from despair, where Naturalism is said to lead to human despair because it allows for no cosmic meaning of life and it eliminates ‘free will’. 

Additionally, we could talk about the argument from religious experience where many people have experienced, perceived, heard, talked or seen God or supernatural entities. Subsequently, they claim that those religious or supernatural experiences are enough evidence to reject naturalism.

The argument of miracles indicates how the existence of what is known as a miracle, is enough evidence to reject naturalism. This can include cases of supernatural healing or individuals with the ability to predict the future, or defending the impossibility of composing a book like the Bible without help from God or the divine.

There is another argument, such as the argument from the necessity of God. This means that it is impossible to conceive the existence of the universe or life itself without recognizing God’s role in it. Finally, we could talk about the argument from the improbability of life and the argument from biological design. The first states that the origin of life was too improbable to have occurred without supernatural forces participating. 

In contrast, the argument from biological design argues that certain structures are too complex to have evolved naturally or by natural selection and can only be explained as the result of intelligent design. 

Why is this blog about Types of Naturalism important?

As we have discussed, there are several types of Naturalism but two of the most common types are Metaphysical Naturalism and Methodological Naturalism. Additionally, we have talked about what naturalism is as the doctrine that argues nature is all that exists and supernatural things do not. This point of view holds that any mental properties are casually derived from (ontologically dependent) systems of non-mental properties where all the contents and effects of the mind are constructed from or caused by natural phenomena.

Finally, there are divided opinions on whether to support or reject naturalism and there are some arguments in favour and some against. Most of the arguments against as we have seen, accept the existence of supernatural phenomena as a fact, rejecting a naturalistic point of view.

Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Types of Naturalism

How many types of naturalism are there?

Two of the most common types of naturalism are:

  • Metaphysical Naturalism: is the belief that nature is all that exists and all the things that are supernatural therefore do not exist.
  • Methodological Naturalism: is the belief that the observable events in nature can only be explained by natural cause. This means not assuming the existence or non-existence of the supernatural. Additionally, consider that supernatural explanations for such events are outside of the scope of sciences. Within this type, we can find absolute methodological naturalism and contingent methodological naturalism.

What is the basic concept of naturalism?

The basic concept of naturalism states that nothing exists beyond the natural world. Naturalism focuses on explanations that come from the laws of nature instead of using supernatural or spiritual explanations. 

What is naturalism in philosophy?

Naturalism in philosophy is the doctrine which argues that reality consists only of natural objects and therefore relies on the methods of natural science to understand and explain reality. Naturalism is said to be closely related to physicalism and materialism and explicitly opposes any form of supernaturalism. 

Where did naturalism come from?

Naturalism comes from the movement that took place from 1865 to 1900 that used detailed realism to suggest that social conditions, heredity, and environmental factors are responsible for shaping human character. Naturalism in literature and naturalistic writers were highly influenced by the theory of evolution of Charles Darwin. 

References 

Philosophybasics.com: “Naturalism”

Plato.stanford.edu: “Naturalism”

Juanita Agboola

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.