In 1903, British philosopher G. E. Moore in his book, Principia Ethica articulated what he called the naturalistic fallacy, an alleged logical fallacy committed whenever one attempts to prove a claim about ethics by appealing to natural properties. In essence, it states that it is illogical to conclude what is good based on what is true. This belief that facts and values are mutually exclusive has become entrenched last century in the minds of scientists and philosophers alike fostering an understanding of ethics that is normative, situational, utilitarian and relativistic. In the 1970s Biologist E.O. Wilson articulated a theory of human nature that rejected the notion that the mind was a blank slate and replaced it with a model that is predisposed to notice and favor certain features of the environment over others, and one with an instinct for language acquisition. In the subsequent decades the Wilsonian view of human nature has come to dominate in the sciences, yet still, when it comes to matters of goodness, virtue, and values, it seems that scientists and philosophers alike continue to invoke the alleged naturalistic fallacy before retreating to the wholly normativistic "blank slate" model of morality. Why?
As biologist Ursula Goodenough has written, "All creatures evaluate". Every living organism is attracted to certain features of its environment and repulsed by other features. My personal amateur hypothesis is that attraction and repulsion in the earliest living organisms informed ancient approach and avoid reflexes, which in higher animals today is mediated by physiological drives and emotions. In human beings, social emotions have evolved to distribute/normalize our perceptions and conceptions of what is to be approached and what is to be avoided. In other words, in our species, the biological imperative to discriminate between attractants and repellents is experienced as our sense of good and bad (good and evil).
A good life, if the positive psychologists are to be believed, is one where our material and psychological needs are met, including our needs for beauty and pleasure, focused engagement and the pursuit of excellence, and a sense of connection to things larger than ourselves. What is good for humans then can be defined as the common property of things which sustain our health and well-being, an idea that can be traced to Socrates and his conception of Eudaimonia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eudaimonia
Interest in the concept of eudaimonia and ancient ethical theories has spiked in the modern times, largely due to the work of Elizabeth Anscombe, who recommends a return the eudaimonistic ethical theories of the ancients, particularly Aristotle, which ground morality in the interests and well being of human moral agents, and can do so without appealing to any questionable metaphysics.
Done! The Naturalistic fallacy rendered fallacious by reforming our definition of goodness to accommodate concepts from modern science! Goodness, by this reformed definition, is the common property of anything that promotes the health and well being of the individual, the group and the environment.
The Philosopher Loyal Rue has written, "The good life presumes life, and life presumes healthy living systems." Is the ancient humanistic standard of goodness (eudaimonia) sustainable? That is, is it adequate for the maintenance of the healthy living systems upon which we utterly depend? I think so, but only so long as individuals understand that it is ultimately in our self-interest and in the interest of future generations that biodiversity thrive that we may continue to enjoy the riches in material, beauty and knowledge they afford. Therefore I suggest the following definition of human virtue.
Virtue: Any quality of character which guides behaviors that promote and optimally balance the health and well-being of the individual, the group, and the environment.
"Wisdom is the intellectual and moral wherewithal to live in harmony with reality."