The moralistic fallacy is in essence the reverse of the naturalistic fallacy.
An instance of the naturalistic fallacy presumes that what is—or what occurs—forms what ought to be. Thus nature is reasoned a priori as moral.
An instance of the moralistic fallacy implies that the undesirable opposes nature. It presumes that what ought to be—something deemed preferable—forms what is or occurs.
Sometimes basic scientific findings or interpretations are rejected, or their discovery or development or acknowledgement is opposed or restricted, on account of a claimed potential misuse or potential harmfulness.
In the late 1970s, Bernard Davis, in response to growing political and public calls to restrict basic research (versus applied research), amid claims of what could become dangerous knowledge (versus dangerous applications), applied the term moralistic fallacy toward its present use.
(The term was used as early as 1957 to at least some if differing import.)
- Warfare is destructive and tragic, and so it is not of human nature.
- Eating meat harms animals and the environment, and so no one has physiological use for it.
- Men and women ought to be given equal opportunities, and so women and men can do everything equally well.
- Warfare must be allowed because human violence is instinctive.
- Veganism is folly because humans have eaten meat for thousands of years.
Within natural science, an instance of the moralistic fallacy can result in rejection of basic science, whose goal is understanding the natural world, on account of its potential misuse in applied science, whose goal as engineering is the alteration of events. This is a blurring of scientific assessment, a matter assessed within natural sciences like physics or biology, versus significance assessment, a matter weighed in social sciences like social psychology, sociology, and political science, or in behavioral sciences like psychology. Thus one fails to clearly distinguish between epistemological value and practical value.
The theory describing the moralistic fallacy affirms that, as to basic science, the descriptive and thus predictive accuracy of the information—an objective matter—is primary, not its origin or its applications as subjectively assessed or varied. The theory describing the moralistic fallacy indicates that knowledge cannot be ensured against misuse, and misuse cannot falsify knowledge. Further, both misuse as well as prevention or renunciation or suppression of scientific knowledge can have undesired or even undesirable effects.
Among the simpler illustrations is the elaboration, in the early 20th century, of quantum physics as basic science, what enabled the development in the mid 20th century of the atomic bomb by applied science. Without the development of the basic science of quantum physics, however, a great deal of technologies like communications and imaging, by other applied science, could not have been developed.
Davis had indicated that, instead of restricting basic science, everyone's and especially the public's clearer familiarization with the uses and limitations of science can more effectively prevent knowledge misuse or harm. Fundamental uses and limitations of science are that natural science can help people understand the natural world, but it cannot make policy, moral, or behavioral decisions. Nor can science in itself educate people. Even today, scientific theories with abundant research support can be discarded in public debates, where general opinions are central but can be false.
Davis had indicated that, while the public is often greatly unaware of current knowledge in basic science, the efforts of basic scientists to inform the public can be stymied by contrasting claims from other sectors both rousing alarm and touting assurances that they are protecting the public. Davis had indicated that subjective concerns—what people believe people should do—are more effectively addressed by dissemination, discourse, and development of knowledge in social sciences, not by restriction of basic science. Davis had thus indicated that the misplaced focus on natural science to make people's choices, what natural science cannot do, has indeed resulted in some moral losses and moral hindrances within societies.
Seville Statement on Violence
The Seville Statement on Violence was adopted, in Seville, Spain, on 16 May 1986, by an international meeting of scientists convened by the Spanish National Commission for UNESCO. UNESCO adopted the statement, on 16 November 1989, at the twenty-fifth session of its General Conference. The statement purported to refute "the notion that organized human violence is biologically determined".
The statement concludes, "Just as 'wars begin in the minds of men', peace also begins in our minds. The same species who invented war is capable of inventing peace. The responsibility lies with each of us."
Some[who?] have criticized the Seville Statement for moralistic fallacy. Some indicate that evolutionary psychology and neuropsychology suggest that human violence, whether or not it is moral or necessary, has biological roots. It might be notable, however, that the origin of such organized violence as wars could be a finer distinction.
- Davis BD (1978). "The moralistic fallacy". Nature. 1978 Mar 30;272(5652):390.
- Moore EC (1957). “The moralistic fallacy”. J Philos. 1957 Jan 17;54(2):29.
- Kreutzberg GW (2005). “Scientists and the marketplace of opinions”. EMBO Rep. 2005 May;6(5):393–6.
- Davis BD (2000). "The scientist's world". Microbiol Mol Biol Rev. 2000 Mar;64(1):1-12.
- Suter, Keith (2005). 50 Things You Want to Know About World Issues... But Were Too Afraid to Ask. Milson's Point, NSW, Australia: Transworld Publishers. ISBN 978-1-86325-503-5.
- "Seville Statement on Violence, Spain, 1986" (in English) (HTML). EDUCATION- Non-Violence Education. UNESCO. http://portal.unesco.org/education/en/ev.php-URL_ID=3247&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html. Retrieved 2007-03-04.
- "Human behaviour: Killer instincts" Nature. 2008 Jan 30;451:512-5.
- "Brain rewards aggression much like it does sex, food, drugs". PhysOrg.com. 1 Feb 2008.
- Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters. Satoshi Kanazawa (2007)