Naturalism is a unifying view of philosophy and science. It is an attitude about how philosophy should be done (a meta-philosophy) and about how philosophy relates to science.


  1. Issues and positions
    1. What is naturalism?
    2. Science and scientism
    3. Reductionism
    4. Rejection of a priori metaphysics
    5. Monism
    6. Rejection of the supernatural
    7. Natural kinds
    8. Ethical naturalism
    9. Criticisms of naturalism
  2. My thoughts
  3. Annotated bibliography
    1. Quine, W.V.O. (1969). Epistemology Naturalized.
    2. Quine, W.V.O. (1969). Natural Kinds.
    3. Bhaskar, R. (1979). The Possibility of Naturalism.
    4. Ross, D. et al. (2000). Dennett’s Philosophy: A Comprehensive Assessment.
    5. Maddy, P. (2007). Second Philosophy.
    6. More articles to do
  4. Links and encyclopedia articles
    1. SEP
    2. IEP
    3. Wikipedia
    4. Others
    5. Videos
  5. References

Issues and positions

What is naturalism?

Maddy defines naturalism:

These days, as more and more philosophers count themselves as naturalists, the term has come to mark little more than a vague science-friendliness. To qualify as unnaturalistic, a contemporary thinker has to insist, for example, that epistemology is an a priori discipline with nothing to learn from empirical psychology or that metaphysical intuitions show quantum mechanics to be false.1

So our inquirer will continue her investigation of the world in her familiar ways, despite her encounter with Descartes and his meditator. She will ask traditionally philosophical questions about what there is and how we know it, just as they do, but she will take perception as a mostly reliable guide to the existence of medium-sized physical objects, she will consult her astronomical observations and theories to weigh the existence of black holes, and she will treat questions of knowledge as involving the relations between the world—as she understands it in her physics, chemistry, optics, geology, and so on—and human beings—as she understands them in her physiology, cognitive science, neuroscience, linguistics, and so on. While Descartes’s meditator begins by rejecting science and common sense in the hope of founding them more firmly by philosophical means, our inquirer proceeds scientifically and attempts to answer even philosophical questions by appeal to its resources. For Descartes’s meditator, philosophy comes first; for our inquirer, it comes second—hence ‘Second Philosophy’ as opposed to ‘First’. Our Character now has a name: she is the Second Philosopher.2


Naturalism is an approach to philosophical problems that interprets them as tractable through the methods of the empirical sciences or at least, without a distinctively a priori project of theorizing.3

Science and scientism

Methodological naturalism.

Figure 1: W.V.O. Quine meme by Daniel Estrada.

Figure 1: W.V.O. Quine meme by Daniel Estrada.

Yet people, sticks, stones, electrons, and molecules are real indeed, on my view, and it is these and no dim proxies that science is all about. Now how is such robust realism to be reconciled with what we have just been through? The answer is naturalism: the recognition that it is within science itself, and not in some prior philosophy, that reality is properly to be identified and described.4

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Naturalism could be defined as a support for philosophy that is filtered for plausibility given the information from science5. See the outline on the science method.

There is an enormous gap between so-called analytic philosophy which broadly agrees that there is something special about science and scientific method, and tries to pin down exactly what it is, and the modern continental tradition which is deeply suspicious of science and its claims to truth and certainty, and generally espouses a cultural relativism that derives from Nietzsche and goes all the way to the postmodern extremes of Derrida and his ilk. There is also the social constructivism that sees scientific facts as mere ‘social constructions’ and is a direct offshoot of the continental relativism. But the analytic tradition itself divides sharply between instrumentalism and realism, the former seeing theories in physics as mathematical ‘black boxes’ linking empirical input with empirical output, while the latter seeks to go behind the purely observational data, and reveal something at least of the hidden ‘theoretical’ processes that lie behind and explain the observational regularities.6


Figure 2: The scale of the universe mapped to the branches of science and the hierarchy of science. CC BY-SA 3.0 (2013) Wikimedia Commons.

Figure 2: The scale of the universe mapped to the branches of science and the hierarchy of science. CC BY-SA 3.0 (2013) Wikimedia Commons.

Also compare with the model of levels in Oppenheim & Putnam (1958).

Every statement about complexes can be analysed into a statement about their constituent parts, and into those propositions which completely describe the complexes.7

Alex Rosenberg is a mad dog against emergence. Video: Alex Rosenberg interviewed for Why Are We Here?

Figure 3: Reductionism (

Figure 3: Reductionism (

If controversies were to arise, there would be no more need of disputation between two philosophers than between two accountants. For it would suffice to take their pencils in their hands, and say to each other: Calculemus—Let us calculate.8


Rejection of a priori metaphysics

Metaphysical naturalism.

TODO: While promoting the careful gathering of empirical information, naturalism is not against (largely non-empirical) rational pursuits like mathematics. Indeed some naturalist may even see logic and mathematics as scientific pursuits of a priori truths.

TODO: Naturalism shares much in common with schools of thought surrounding positivism, through its respect for science and skepticism of a priori metaphysics, but naturalism is a more general distinction, being a more much longer thread throughout the history of philosophy and science.

Figure 4: A version of the distracted boyfriend meme maligning a priori metaphysics.

Figure 4: A version of the “distracted boyfriend meme” maligning a priori metaphysics.


Rejection of the supernatural

Part of methodological naturalism.

Natural kinds

Part of metaphysical naturalism.

Figure 5: How naturalist climb the ladd to realism (

Figure 5: How naturalist climb the ladd to realism (

See the outline on scientific realism.

See the outline on philosophy of mathematics.

Ethical naturalism

Part of metaphysical naturalism.

See the outline on Ethics.

Criticisms of naturalism



My thoughts

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Annotated bibliography

Quine, W.V.O. (1969). Epistemology Naturalized.

My thoughts

Quine, W.V.O. (1969). Natural Kinds.

My thoughts

Bhaskar, R. (1979). The Possibility of Naturalism.

1. Section

My thoughts

Ross, D. et al. (2000). Dennett’s Philosophy: A Comprehensive Assessment.

1. Section

My thoughts

Maddy, P. (2007). Second Philosophy.

1. Section

My thoughts







Boghossian, P. (2006). Fear of Knowledge. Oxford University Press.

Cadwalladr, C. (2017). Daniel Dennett: I begrudge every hour I have to spend worrying about politics. The Guardian. February 12, 2017.

Heer, J. (2017). America’s First Postmodern President. New Republic. July 8, 2017.

Jacobs, J. (2002). Naturalism. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Konnikova, M. (2012). Humanities aren’t a science. Stop treating them like one. Scientific American Blogs. August 10, 2012.

Ladyman, J., Ross, D., Spurrett, D., & Collier, J. (2007). Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalised. Oxford University Press.

Leibniz, G. (1951). The Art of Discovery. In P. Wiener (Ed.), Leibniz: Selections. Scribner. (Originally published in 1685).

———. (1989). Dissertatio de Arte Combinatoria. In L. Loemker (Ed.), Philosophical Papers and Letters: The New Synthese Historical Library (Texts and Studies in the History of Philosophy), vol 2 (pp. 73–84). Springer. (Originally published in 1666).

Maddy, P. (2007). Second Philosophy. Oxford University Press.

Ney, A. (2018). The Politics of Fundamentality.

Oppenheim, P., & Putnam, H. (1958). Unity of science as a working hypothesis. In H. F. et al. (Ed.), Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Vol. II. Minnesota University Press.

Perrin, A. J. (2017). Stop Blaming Postmodernism for Post-Truth Politics. The Chronicle of Higher Education. August 4, 2017.

Pluckrose, H. (2016). Why I No Longer Identify as a Feminist. Areo Magazine. December 26, 2016.

———. (2017). How French “intellectuals” ruined the west: Postmodernism and its impact, explained. Areo Magazine. March 27, 2017.

Pomerantsev, P. (2016). Why We’re Post-fact. Granta. July 20, 2016.

Putnam, H. (2016). Naturalism, Realism, and Normativity. Harvard University Press.

Quine, W. V. O. (1969). Natural kinds. In Ontological Relativity and Other Essays. Columbia University Press.

———. (1981a). Reply to Stroud. Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 6, 473–476.

———. (1981b). Theories and Things. Harvard University Press.

Redhead, M. (1999). Quantum field theory and the philosopher. In T. Cao (Ed.), Conceptual Foundations of Quantum Field Theory (pp. 34–40). Cambridge University Press.

Rosenberg, A. (2011). Why I am a naturalist. New York Times. September 17, 2011.

Ross, D., Ladyman, J., & Kincaid, H. (2013). Scientific Metaphysics. Oxford University Press.

Sartwell, C. (2015). Philosophy returns to the real world. New York Times. April 13, 2015.

Sokal, A. D. (1996a). A Physicist Experiments With Cultural Studies.

———. (1996b). Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.

Sokal, A. D., & Bricmont, J. (1998). Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science. Picador.

Weinberg, S. (1996). Sokal’s Hoax. The New York Review of Books, 43, 11–15. August 8, 1996.

Williams, C. (2017). Has Trump Stolen Philosophy’s Critical Tools? The New York Times. April 17, 2017.

Wittgenstein, L. (1922). Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. (C. K. Ogden, Trans.). London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co.

  1. Maddy (2007), p. 1.

  2. Maddy (2007), pp. 18–19.

  3. Jacobs (2002).

  4. Quine (1981a), p. 474. A similar quote can be found in Quine (1981b), p. 21.

  5. Ladyman, Ross, Spurrett, & Collier (2007).

  6. Redhead (1999), p. 34.

  7. Wittgenstein (1922), line 2.0201.

  8. Leibniz has similar quotes in several works. This quote is taken from a translation of his first book, Dissertatio de arte combinatoria, written in 1666 (Leibniz, 1989, p. 73). TODO: Actually, I haven’t found this yet. See also Leibniz (1951), p. 51.

  9. Ney (2018).

  10. Quine (1969).

  11. Ross, Ladyman, & Kincaid (2013).

  12. Konnikova (2012).

  13. Sokal (1996a), Sokal (1996b), Sokal & Bricmont (1998).

  14. Weinberg (1996).

  15. Boghossian (2006).

  16. Ladyman et al. (2007).

  17. Rosenberg (2011).

  18. Sartwell (2015).

  19. Pluckrose (2016).

  20. Pluckrose (2017).

  21. Pomerantsev (2016).

  22. Heer (2017).

  23. Cadwalladr (2017).

  24. Williams (2017).

  25. Perrin (2017).