Social Policy

By providing a unified picture of ourselves embedded in nature, culture, and biology, naturalism serves as the basis for enlightened social policies. Naturalism holds that persons are not self-created, but owe their successes and failures to the conditions into which they were born and developed. Therefore, major social and economic inequalities cannot be justified on the basis that individuals strongly deserve their status. This understanding will help motivate progressive policies that increase the well-being of those who are unlucky in life, and thus reduce extreme disparities in income and opportunity. By challenging the myth of the self-made self, we can help create a more equitable society.

Naturalism also discounts religious and ideological restrictions on personal freedom and autonomy when making significant choices in life. This lends support to progressive policies on gay rights, abortion and dignity in dying. It also permits us to consider the question of what sorts of beings we might want to become, the challenge of transhumanism. And naturalism is by nature friendly to the pluralist state, in which policies affecting all citizens must have a secular, this-world justification, not be based in contested sectarian beliefs.  But of course in a pluralist state no one will be required to believe in naturalism. 

See also the Social Justice, Criminal Justice, and Behavioral Health pages.

Articles in this Section

Related Content from Other Sections

  • Rational Optimism: Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now, Book Review

    Pinker is a conditional, rational optimist, not a Panglossian, about the prospects for continued global economic and moral progress. There is much we need to do, and can do, if we set our minds to it, to advance human flourishing and protect against existential threats. Besides making the rational case for science and reason itself, his book offers guidance on defending and augmenting the success we’ve achieved on multiple fronts, economic, political, and social. Hope for the human project is justified if we act on behalf of, and on the basis of, the Enlightenment ideals that Pinker argues account for our progress thus far.

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