What Is Non-Naturalism?



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. 8(0). doi: