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Personal and Social Consequences of Naturalism


Personal psychological consequences

Limits and connection: A naturalistic view of yourself places you completely and irrevocably in the physical world, a fully-connected, card-carrying participant in the unfolding of the material universe. Your life is bounded by birth and death, your consciousness solely the product of your brain, your will the product of thousands of influences, some traceable to the long natural history of our evolution. If your limits are made clear under naturalism, so too is your lineage. The first might keep you humble, the second might give you a sense of place as unbounded as the universe described by science. See the Spirituality page for more on this.

Pride and shame: Seeing that your behavior arises on its own - out of your particular biologically given traits and your particular career through life, not from a non-material controlling self - might pry you loose from excessive pride and shame. Your successes resulted from personal characteristics given to you in their entirety by nature and nurture, combined with circumstances in which you could express your talents. Likewise, your failures arose not from some weakness of will that could have been otherwise, but out of conditions which can be understood as the natural unfolding of physical and psychological processes. Anyone with the same internal and external circumstances would have done as well, or as badly. Understanding this won’t change the fact that you enjoy success and regret failure, but it may loosen the grip of ego and ease the burden of self-blame.

Blame and envy: Just as your own behavior can be understood as the natural unfolding of physical and psychological processes, so can the behavior of others, and your attitudes toward them might change in the light of this understanding. Seeing exactly how someone got to be the way they are, and knowing that their virtues and faults arise out of circumstances, not from an autonomous, non-physical agent, can help to reduce the time spent on unproductive blaming and envy.

The threat of fatalism:  If you don't have contra-causal free will, what about fatalism?  See The Flaw of Fatalism to see why giving up free will need not, and usually cannot, lead to a fatalistic passivity. For reassurances about other worries that arise when considering naturalism, see here.


Social consequences

Behavioral Health: Mental illness, addiction, obesity, and other behavioral disorders are too often misunderstood as failures of will. Instead, we can understand dysfunctional behavior as fully caused by the interaction of genetic and environmental factors. This understanding reduces the stigma associated with behavioral disorders, while pointing the way toward effective treatment. Naturalism supports the development of psychotherapeutic and self-change techniques that apply a causal view of behavior. Properly presented, challenging conventional wisdom about the self and free will is a powerful means to increase life satisfaction and deepen interpersonal relationships. See Addiction and Behavioral Health.

Punishment: Since the retributive justification for punishment is based largely on the notion that behavior is originated by a causally autonomous self, the motive to impose such punishment may diminish once it is seen that such a self does not exist.  In particular, support may drop for punitive measures such as the death penalty or prison sentences without rehabilitative amenities.  More attention will be paid to the conditions which create crime, and to approaches that redeem offenders instead of further brutalizing them. See the Criminal Justice page.

Social Policies:  If persons are not self-made, but entirely the product of genetic and environmental conditions, this means that their virtues and faults are not a matter of will or self-chosen character.  Rather, individuals are shaped by circumstances that can themselves be modified to produce people that are happier, more productive, more creative, and less needy. The myth of ultimate self-determination (contra-causal free will) blocks the design of a more humane society by blaming persons for their shortcomings instead of understanding the conditions that create them. Likewise, this myth touts material success as the triumph of free will, so that it's thought to be justifiably restricted to those who "deserve" to succeed.  Under naturalism, the allocation of resources is understood not to reflect what is deserved on the basis of self-caused virtue, but what is needed for each of us to live a desirable life. Therefore social policies will be encouraged which seek to maximize the opportunities for each person's development, independent of differences in inherited  talent or social status.  See the Social Justice page.


 
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