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The modern history of psychology, biology, social science and even physics itself can usefully be seen as hinging on changing attitudes to naturalist ontological principles and naturalist methodological precepts.
The ontological component is concerned with the contents of reality, asserting that reality has no place for “supernatural” or other “spooky” kinds of entity.
By contrast, the methodological component is concerned with ways of investigating reality, and claims some kind of general authority for the scientific method.
The term “naturalism” has no very precise meaning in contemporary philosophy.
Its current usage derives from debates in America in the first half of the last century.
However, familiarity with the relevant scientific history casts the matter in a different light.
It turns out that naturalist doctrines, far from varying with ephemeral fashion, are closely responsive to received scientific opinion about the range of causes that can have physical effects.The self-proclaimed “naturalists” from that period included John Dewey, Ernest Nagel, Sidney Hook and Roy Wood Sellars.These philosophers aimed to ally philosophy more closely with science.It may not be immediately obvious why this need to account for physical effects should impose any substantial naturalist constraints on some category.After all, there seems nothing incoherent in the idea of radically unscientific “supernatural” events exerting a causal influence on physical processes, as is testified by the conceptual cogency of traditional stories about the worldly interventions of immaterial deities and other outlandish beings. We shall see below how modern scientific theory places strong restrictions on the kinds of entities that can have physical effects.The great majority of contemporary philosophers would happily accept naturalism as just characterized—that is, they would both reject “supernatural” entities, and allow that science is a possible route (if not necessarily the only one) to important truths about the “human spirit”.Even so, this entry will not aim to pin down any more informative definition of “naturalism”.The important thing is to articulate and assess the reasoning that has led philosophers in a generally naturalist direction, not to stipulate how far you need to travel along this path before you can count yourself as a paid-up “naturalist”.As indicated by the above characterization of the mid-twentieth-century American movement, naturalism can be separated into an ontological and a methodological component.They hold that there is nothing more to the mental, biological and social realms than arrangements of physical entities.The driving motivation for this kind of ontological naturalism is the need to explain how special entities can have physical effects.