Appeal to Nature


An Appeal to Nature is the assumption that something that is “Natural” is inherently better than something that is “Unnatural.”

This fallacy is not to be confused with “The Naturalistic Fallacy” which is a card for another day.

First off, “natural” is a loaded term(a link to that card is coming soon!), meaning it brings on certain feelings when it is used. In actuality the word is vague and thus not super useful when describing things.

Mostly this fallacy is used in the selling of products deemed to be better for you because of their ‘naturalness’. Certain industrial processes can indeed take away nutritional value from your food, but since the term ‘natural’ doesn’t have a specific definition(nor regulation on its use), including it in marketing only helps in conjuring positive images, as apposed to relaying any real information about a product.

The term is vague because there is no clear destination between natural and unnatural. Is heating food natural? Farming? Fermenting? Cross-breeding plants?

It is also fair to question feelings the term ‘natural’ brings. Here is a list of ‘natural’ things that will kill you soon as look at you: snakes, hemlock, flesh-eating bacteria, allergic reactions, and bears. Although if you ate bear you’d probably be okay. There are also loads of man-made ‘unnatural’ things/processes that have improved, extended and saved countless lives such as vaccines, indoor plumbing, and agriculture.

While there are certainly arguments to be made when considering the source, contents, and processing of food/other products, anything using the term”natural” is probably worthy of a raised eyebrow.


7 thoughts on “Appeal to Nature

  1. I think you may want to tone down this card a little bit. Right now, the card is full of loaded language (which is it’s own informal fallacy/rhetorical device), and that causes it to come across as an attack. If the cards are intended as instructional materials, use of words like “half-baked notion” (vs belief or just notion) and “okay sure” (vs yes) towards common cultural beliefs may insult the students and drive them away. I think if it were toned down, it would be more likely to get through to the intended audience.

    For example, rather than: “First off, the idea of “natural” is bunk, a loaded word, whose meaning is as slippery as a fish.”
    Perhaps you might say: “The word “natural” is an irrelevant, loaded, and vague term.”
    Then go on to show why it is those three things. Perhaps link it to a card on loaded language.

    I agree that the term is irrelevant. As you stated, plenty of natural things (including natural vegetables) can kill you. And traditional agricultural techniques have produced vegetables with higher vitamin content versus their wild brethren.

    Further, when it comes to packaging, it is merely loaded language with nothing behind the claim. That’s not to say that there is no truth behind the claim that natural vegetables are better for you: certain genetic modifications & factory farming techniques have been scientifically proven to reduce the vitamin content in the foods we eat. However, there is absolutely no regulation on vegetables and only post-production regulation on on meat/eggs, so anyone can slap the word on a product regardless of which farming techniques were used in it’s production, and regardless of whether or not it was genetically modified.

    And, finally, the term is vague: where do we draw the line between natural and unnatural? Some will say only wild vegetables and fruits are natural, others will say that traditional agriculture is natural, and still others will say that all vegetables and fruits are natural regardless of production techniques.

    Also, I think you should leave out the term organic entirely, as there is some regulation there (e.g., no GMO’s), and, therefore, some reason to believe it may make a difference in the end product. Including that term leaves the entire card open to being attacked and disbelieved by the reader. Whereas marketing is literally the only difference between vegetables labeled as “all natural” and vegetables which don’t receive that label.

    • All very good points. I will make an attempt to change the tone and include some of those suggestions. I’m always balancing detail with easy to understand and humor with logic. Thanks for the input!

  2. I agree that this page needs to be reworked. I would begin with and focus on the most obvious examples. It will also make the idea that appeal to nature is a fallacy more impactful. Cyanide is my favorite example. It needs to be clear that one may value “nature” in the sense of flora and fauna, protecting endangered species, etc, but that the assumption that “natural is good” is a wrong assumption, and then point to examples such as cyanide.

    I agree that depoliticizing this page would work better. Think of how this argument would be made two hundred years ago. Because this fallacy has always been relevant, even without GMOs and vaccines. Also, if you choose less controversial examples (like cyanide or, say, purified water as unnatural) it gives people the opportunity to apply this concept to more controversial topics on their own.

    I would also make it clear that it’s not so much that both natural and unnatural things can be good or bad, but rather that the whole idea that something can be unnatural is wrong. What does “nature” really mean? It really means gravity, electromagnetism, etc. The laws of nature. Everything is natural, so an appeal to nature is meaningless.

    I guess I’m contradicting myself a little here. I’m giving examples of natural (cyanide) and unnatural (purified water) and then saying, but there is no natural/unnatural. I guess there are two sides to this. One is that the term natural is super vague. The other is that even when you might make the distinction, natural things can be harmful and unnatural things can be beneficial.

    Also, I’m pretty sure “natural flavors” is a regulated term, that means the compound must be found in nature (as opposed to a lab) but that it could be made in a lab as long as it’s found in nature. So peach flavor can be made in a lab as long as that compound can be found in a peach. I could be wrong though.

    This is probably the most important fallacy where I live, so it’s important to me that this card is convincing to people who consistently commit this fallacy!

    • I kind of hoped ‘hemlock’ would work where you’re suggesting ‘cyanide’ I think it’s a bit better of an example because it is a species of plant. Where as cyanide requires some knowledge of chemistry to wrap your brain around it. I do like the example of purified water, and think I might use it. I steered clear of using GMOs as an example because of the current controversy, vaccines however are very much not. Good call on natural v artificial flavors I will look into what the protocol is there. I do know that advertiser can use the term ‘Natural’ with impunity. When rewriting this one I will try and focus on how arbitrary this idea is as well as how vague it is. I have also been making a habit in other posts to call out examples explicitly. As far as informal fallacies this one is certainly well represented in Northern California. :)

  3. <>
    You wrote since twice twice!

    I also looks like you are systematically forgetting a space before opening a bracket.

    Finally, I think you should include several examples of each fallacies in context, like the site does.


    • Good catch. I’ll look deeper at that open bracket issue, not sure if it’s the font or used to typing javascript… :) I would love any suggestions of specific examples. I try to include a few in every entry but this definitely one needs one. Perhaps I’ll just walk over to Whole Foods with my camera. There are a few others where the examples are hypothetical and I think real world examples are so much better, so if you have any ideas, send them my way! Another constraint is I try not to use examples that are on other prominent logical fallacy sites.

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