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Sinning against nature: the theory of background conditions
  1. R Blackford
  1. Correspondence to:
 R Blackford
 School of Philosophy and Bioethics, Monash University, Wellington Road, Clayton, VIC 3800, Australia; Russell.Blackford{at}


Debates about the moral and political acceptability of particular sexual practices and new technologies often include appeals to a supposed imperative to follow nature. If nature is understood as the totality of all phenomena or as those things that are not artificial, there is little prospect of developing a successful argument to impugn interference with it or sinning against it. At the same time, there are serious difficulties with approaches that seek to identify "proper" human functioning. An alternative approach is to understand interference with nature as acting in a manner that threatens basic background conditions to human choice. Arguably, the theory of background conditions helps explain much of the hostility to practices and technologies that allegedly sin against nature. The theory does not, however, entail that appeals to nature are relevant or rational. Such appeals should be subjected to sceptical scrutiny. Indeed, the theory suggests that arguments against practices and technologies that can be seen as contrary to nature sometimes exercise a psychological attraction that is disproportional to their actual cogency.

  • IVF, in vitro fertilisation

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  • Competing interests: None.