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It is common online to see Goreans attempt to justify the Gorean philosophy by pointing out that it entails simply following natural principles. Men and women are just assuming their natural roles in life, which is all a part of the "natural order." What is natural should be embraced by mankind. The denial and repression of our basic nature is wrong and leads to psychological problems as Norman outlined in a number of quotes in the Gor series. And the discussion rarely, if ever, advances past this point. Critics of Gor most often attack whether these principles are truly natural or not. They rarely, if ever, attack the justification of whether following the natural order is proper or not. They argue the details without considering the larger picture. But, the primary problem is that this underlying justification is both fallacious and unsupported by John Norman himself. One should not follow a principle just because it is natural. There needs to be a more compelling reason for justification. And that is what this essay shall address.
There are so many questions raised by this topic, from the general to the specific. These questions touch on some crucial issues that anyone considering whether to follow a Gorean philosophy should be asking. In fact, these questions are relevant to any person considering whether to follow any philosophy.
Why should anyone follow a Gorean philosophy? What is the cognitivity of Gorean philosophy, or in other words does Gorean philosophy have a truth value? How does one prove the validity of the Gorean philosophy? What value does one derive from a Gorean philosophy? What is the justification for an adherence to the Gorean philosophy? Why choose the Gorean philosophy over another philosophy?
What is the natural order? Should we follow every natural instinct or urge? If something is natural, does that make it worthy of emulation or acceptance? What is the naturalistic fallacy? How does it apply to Gorean philosophy?
The new field of evolutionary psychology, also known as sociobiology, explores the genetic and evolutionary basis for our behavior. It tries to explain the natural reasons for why we act as we do. In this regard, it helps define what is meant by the natural order. Much of our behavior can be traced to mankind's earliest roots, and his desire to propagate himself. Evolution works on an individual basis, each person trying to boost his own chances of leaving offspring. This drive to reproduce leads to certain behaviors that enhance those chances and such behavior has been passed down through countless generations. For example, it is often stated that man is generally more dominant because it was the dominant male who was better able to ensure his reproductive future. In that same respect, it was the more submissive female who had the greater chance of reproductive success.
This would all seem rather benign but the field of evolutionary psychology is not without some heated controversy. The biggest opposition is toward the potential uses of the conclusions drawn by evolutionary psychologists. Allegations of violations of the naturalistic fallacy abound. Criticisms that their conclusions will be used to justify genocide, racism, and discrimination are widespread. Yet, the true evolutionary psychologists do not make moral judgments concerning their conclusions. They simply present their findings as is, without advocating the ethics of the behavior. They do not commit the naturalistic fallacy because they do not advocate any moral position. They do not deny that their findings could be potentially abused by unethical people but they are certainly not advocates of such misuse of their work.
So why is there any controversy? First, there are a few scientists and non-scientists who have done exactly what others fear, tried to use the results of evolutionary psychology to push their own racist or discriminatory agendas. These individuals have tried to use the results to justify certain ethical positions. These people though are thankfully in the minority. Second, individuals in the past have abused the concept of the "natural order" so it has acquired a bad reputation. For example, the Nazis co-opted the concept in an attempt to justify their abhorrent genocidal policies against Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and others. In both of these cases, the naturalistic fallacy has applied.
Online Goreans can fall into the category of those entrapped by the naturalistic fallacy and using their belief in a "natural order" to discriminate against others. They may commit the offenses of which the evolutionary psychology field is accused. And they would be wrong to do so. Their error is mostly due to their ignorance of the matter, of their failure to better understand certain philosophical concepts and also their failure to understand John Norman. Thus, better understanding is essential to rectifying the errors in their beliefs.
The naturalistic fallacy derives from the work of G.E. Moore who stated that the term "good" really cannot be defined. Any definition we try to give it is inadequate in one way or another. It is a moral term that defies definition. Though we can give examples of "good" things, we cannot really qualify the essential nature of what is "good." Moore was basically saying that one cannot make a proscriptive statement, a moral or ethical statement, based solely on a descriptive statement. This is also sometimes rephrased that you cannot derive what "ought" to be done from what "is." Thus, just because something "is" in nature, that does not mean you "ought" to follow it. As an example, let us assume that male dominance does exist in nature. We have made a descriptive statement about the nature of man. But, existence of this trait alone does not justify that it should become a moral or ethical mandate. Just because something is natural or instinctive does not mean it is automatically moral or good.
Now, the philosophical community is very supportive of the validity of the naturalistic fallacy. Of those who have some concerns with it, their concerns are often in very selective areas. As a general principle, nearly all philosophers would uphold it, including John Norman. Norman's own dissertation dealt with Moore's naturalistic fallacy and was his attempt to try to refute Moore's work. Norman concluded that he was basically unable to refute the fallacy though he felt he raised a few questions in certain selective areas. He begrudgingly admitted that Moore may have been correct that a term like "good" cannot be defined.
So, if we try to justify the Gorean philosophy by simply saying that it is based on the natural order, we are committing the naturalistic fallacy. We are basing our ethical system on a description of nature. We cannot simply give a list of what constitutes the natural order and thus state that this is the way things should be. We need to seek a deeper justification for the Gorean philosophy. In addition, Norman himself does not support that one should follow every natural principle or instinct. He is quite adamant actually that there are certain matters that might be natural that should not be acted upon, or that should be sublimated in different pursuits.
Let us assume that the philosophy espoused in the Gorean books is something Norman espouses as well in his nonfiction, a philosophy he supports. There seems little reason to believe that there is any significant difference between the Gorean philosophy and Norman's own beliefs in his nonfiction works. My previous essay on Imaginative Sex indicated many of the correlations between that work and the Gorean books. And it is to that work that we must once again delve into. For it is in this book that we find Norman stating that there are certain natural aspects that man should not surrender to.
Norman discusses how all individuals naturally possess sadistic and masochistic tendencies. Yet he acknowledges that people should not give in freely to these urges. They should find ways to express such desires in socially acceptable ways, such as expressing them in sexual role-play. Norman also mentions that though men may have a certain instinctive nature to rape, that he should not give in to such a desire. In addition, he discusses how all individuals possess certain natural, homosexual tendencies. Yet again, he states that giving into these natural desires is not the most proper path. So, we thus have a number of instances where Norman emphatically states that man should not follow every natural aspect of himself. He must temper such tendencies, often due to ethical grounds.
So, how do we determine which natural principles should be followed? How do we now try to justify the Gorean philosophy if we cannot simply point to the natural order? Let us begin by consulting Norman's other nonfiction book, The Cognitivity Paradox. In this book, Norman attempted to define the term "philosophy" indicating that he felt the term simply meant a "proposal." Thus, the Gorean philosophy would be a proposal as well, a proposal of how one should live one's life, a proposal of an ethical structure different from much that exists in our modern society. Once Norman defined philosophy, he then asked the question whether philosophy could be cognitive or not, whether it could possess a truth-value or not.
By its most common definition, a proposal would not seem to be something that was either true or false. But, certain proposals can be considered to be better than others. And those proposals are assessed against certain adequacy conditions. The better the proposal fits the adequacy conditions, the more value it is seen as having. Adequacy conditions are simply a set of objectives by which a proposal can be adjudged. Hypothetically, there could be an ideal set of adequacy conditions and thus an ideal proposal that perfectly fits those adequacy conditions. If this is so, then one might be to form a derivative cognitivity for philosophical proposals. Their truth value will vary according to their compatibility to the adequacy conditions.
So, to assess the cognitivity of Gorean philosophy, one needs to create a set of adequacy conditions. Norman offers little assistance in The Cognitivity Paradox in creating such matters. Thus, we are on our own in that regard and we could probably spent a long time discussing various adequacy conditions. So, let us examine but one possibility here, a matter mentioned within the Gor novels. "The test of a society is perhaps not its conformance or nonconformance to principles but the nature and human prosperity of its members. Let each look about himself and judge for himself the success of his own society. Man lives confused in the ruins of ideologies. Perhaps he will someday emerge from the caves and pens of his past. That would be a beautiful day to see. There would be a sunlit world waiting for him" (Slave Girl of Gor, p.212)
So, maybe instead of pointing out that certain aspects of Gorean philosophy are natural, we should be pointing out how certain aspects make us better individuals, happier and more satisfied with life. For is not the goal of any philosophy to make us better individuals? If that is the case, then maybe that is a primary lens by which we should examine Gorean philosophy. Instead of dwelling on what we have sacrificed to follow a Gorean philosophy, we should be dwelling on how we have benefited from it. This is simply putting a more positive spin on the matter, rather than viewing it through a scope of negativity. Are we better individuals by following Gorean philosophy?
The Gorean philosophy should be for everyone. It is something that Norman would agree would benefit Earth greatly. It was not intended to be a philosophy for the elite. It was intended as a way of life for all. Now, many people might reject the Gorean philosophy but that is more out of ignorance than anything else. They are victims of a repressive societal conditioning that has skewed their point of view. There may only be an elite at this time that properly understand Gorean philosophy, a small group who has found a way to bypass their conditioning. Yet that does not mean that the philosophy is only for the elite. To think otherwise would be a misunderstanding of the philosophy.
From the Gorean Voice, December 2002