What Is Non-Naturalism?

  • Stephanie Leary (McGill University)


Metaethicists often specify non-naturalism in different ways: some take it to be about identity, while others take it to be about grounding. But few directly address the taxonomical question of what the best way to understand non-naturalism is. That’s the task of this paper. This isn’t a merely terminological question about how to use the term “non-naturalism”, but a substantive philosophical one about what metaphysical ideology we need to capture the pre-theoretical concerns of non-naturalists. I argue that, contrary to popular opinion, non-naturalism is best characterized not in terms of identity or grounding, but in terms of essence. First, I lay out some desiderata for a good characterization of non-naturalism: it should (i) speak to and elucidate the non-naturalist’s core pre-theoretical commitments, (ii) render non-naturalism a substantive, local claim about normativity, and (iii) provide the most general characterization of the view possible (iv) in a way that best fits the spirit of paradigm non-naturalist views. I then argue that identity characterizations fail to satisfy the former two desiderata, while grounding characterizations at best don’t satisfy the latter two. So, I propose a new essence characterization of non-naturalism and argue that it does a better job of satisfying all four desiderata. Moreover, I argue that this essence characterization has important implications for both metaethical and metaphysical theorizing.

How to Cite:

Leary, S., (2022) “What Is Non-Naturalism?”, Ergo an Open Access Journal of Philosophy 8: 52. doi:

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Published on
28 Dec 2022
Peer Reviewed