Follow TV Tropes


Appeal to Inherent Nature

Go To

Then [the devil] let [the goats] go to pasture alone, but it came to pass that the Lord God perceived how at one time they gnawed away at a fruitful tree, at another injured the noble vines, or destroyed other tender plants. This distressed him, so that in his goodness and mercy he summoned his wolves, who soon tore in pieces the goats that went there. When the devil observed this, he went before the Lord and said, "Thy creatures have destroyed mine." The Lord answered, "Why didst thou create things to do harm?" The Devil said, "I was compelled to do it: inasmuch as my thoughts run on evil, what I create can have no other nature, and thou must pay me heavy damages."
Grimm's Fairy Tales, "The Lord's Anmals and the Devil's"

A subset of Appeal to Nature; if something is naturally predisposed to a certain act or state, it must be accepted. Snakes bite, bears maul, poisons kill, babies scream, sociopaths torture, and Nazis commit genocide; but those are their natures, so we should not hold it against them.

This is usually a fallacy, but there are cases where it isn't. The key is consistency: if someone/something always reacts a particular way to a situation and always will, simply describing this is fundamentally correct. For instance, a computer will always do what you tell it to do (although not necessarily what you want it to do). Naturally, this is very difficult to do with people without implicitly denying that they are human or getting involved in tautologies: saying All Gays are Promiscuous is offensive, but saying that all Portuguese speakers speak Portuguese is stating the obvious. It's saying something is good because it's inherent to them that is the problem.

Used as one of the Jerk Justifications. For when a man is appealing to his sexual nature, see I'm a Man; I Can't Help It. The Farmer and the Viper is similar, about how evil will always be evil so you shouldn't waste time on them. Compare to Culture Justifies Anything, where somebody argues that one shouldn't hold an action that is "part of my culture" against them, and It's What I Do, where characters justify their actions by saying it's what they do naturally.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • The God Hand of Berserk use this to convince Griffith to make a Deal with the Devil. Using illusion and metaphor, they convince him that he's been stepping over the corpses of his followers to get what he wants all along, and that it is in fact in his nature to do so.

    Comic Books 
  • In issue #3 of IDW's Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters series, the No Celebrities Were Harmed version of Lady Gaga said that humanity shouldn't hold it against giant monsters for rampaging and destroying cities; it's just what they do, and it would be wrong to kill them for it.
  • This trope is cited numerous times in The Sandman (1989). A good number of the series' deities subscribe to this, particularly the Anthropomorphic Personifications, since it's implied that they might not have much identity beyond their jobs. Or do they?
    • This turns up in "A Dream of Thousand Cats", as an older cat expresses doubt that the utopia (which requires a thousand cats to literally dream it into existence) promised will ever happen as it's not in cats' nature to do what they're told.
  • Fables:
    • Mr North (Anthropomorphic Personification of the North Wind,) is loathed by his son Bigby for abandoning his mother and causing her to die of a broken heart, to which Mr North replies that it is in the nature of winds to change direction. A generally very nice goblin named Mr Brump drunkenly eats a sentient squirrel and is put on trial for murder, during which his lawyer produces the scorpion (from "the scorpion and the frog" story under folklore below,) as a defence witness, and argues that it is in the nature of goblins to thoughtlessly devour any meat they can, regardless of who or what the meat comes from. In both these cases their interlocutors call bullshit; Bigby argues that Mr North may be no different from a normal fickle deadbeat and is just using his "nature" to make himself feel better, but even if Mr North is right, any entity with so little control over himself that he can't take responsibility for his own actions is a dangerous monster that should be put down anyway. Mr Brump's argument gets rejected by the judge in light of the fact that Brump is a fully sentient being who is thus responsible for his own actions, though in private the judge mused that his reason for condemning Brump had as much to do with setting a dangerous precedent that excused murder as Brump's culpability in that particular instance.
    • A more minor example of a character excusing his own dubious behaviour in this way is Prince Charming and his perennial lack of fidelity, though by the time of the series it's such common knowledge that he can't sustain a relationship that hardly anyone bothers to call him out on it any more.
  • The Transformers (Marvel): Bludgeon uses this argument to strand the Autobots on a dying Cybertron, then go find a nice peaceful planet, and slaughter every living thing on it. After all, the Decepticons are conquerors. Why fight what's in their energon?
  • The Mighty Thor: Used to suggest why Loki is Loki, because he just can't help being bad (and Because Destiny Says So). In recent years, Loki took offense to the idea, since it makes him predictable, and has tried very hard to be good. Several characters have noted their belief that sooner or later, he'll go back to being the villain. For what it's worth being extremely rebellious and stubborn are also part of Loki's inherent nature so the more people question their ability to change the harder they try to (basically their approach to be good is the very same obsessiveness they used to try to conquer Asgard and/or defeat Thor with time and time again no matter how many times they failed).

     Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes: This is a favorite argument by both Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin claims that since his innate desires are towards selfishness and destruction, it's wrong for his parents and society to try and squash them and turn him into a productive member of society, and he should be allowed to run rampant and do whatever he wants. Hobbes, being a wild animal, has a slightly better case, since he's a predator, but since he's also intelligent, he's got a choice whether or not to follow his instincts, something he refuses to acknowledge.

  • Grimm's Fairy Tales: In "The Lord's Anmals and the Devil's", when God demands of the Devil why he made goats to harm useful plants and deprive others of their fruits, the Devil replies that it in his nature to do evil and can only create harmful things. Furthermore, since he cannot prevent himself from doing this, he claims that he is owed recompense for God's destruction of the goats.

     Fan Works 
  • The Bolt Chronicles: Subverted in "The Coyote." Title character Charlie, initially seen as an untrustworthy trickster, tells Bolt that he spared the dog's life by going against his natural instincts.
    Charlie: Y’know, most members of my species woulda gone for your throat and made a fast meal of you when you’re down like that.
  • In Prince Charming, Plagg warns Adrien that, even though he truly doesn't mean Adrien any harm, he is the spirit of Misfortune and it is not in his nature to give gifts without a double edge. Calling on his power to strip Adrien of his blessing is going to come with some costs, no matter what.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Natural Born Killers provides an alternate rendition of the below entry:
    Once upon a time, a woman was picking up firewood. She came upon a poisonous snake frozen in the snow. She took the snake home and nursed it back to health. One day the snake bit her on the cheek. As she lay dying, she asked the snake, "Why have you done this to me?" And the snake answered, "Look, bitch, you knew I was a snake."
  • In Carlito's Way, Carlito is confronted by his girlfriend Gail about leaving the criminal life behind, saying the only way that road ends is with her crying in an emergency room as Carlito dies. Carlito defends his adherence to the "code of the street" even as he goes clean by means of this fallacy, saying something to the effect of, "That's who I am. I can't change." It does not work out well.
  • The Crying Game includes a character telling "The Scorpion and the Frog" to discuss this topic, and ultimately tries to use it to convince his interlocutor that he's not a bad person.
  • In Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Calypso justifies her failure to meet Davey Jones again after ten years with "It's my nature". She then points out that her flighty, tempestuous nature as a sea-goddess is the reason he'd loved her in the first place, so expecting her to behave otherwise for that love's sake is hypocritical.
  • Thor: Ragnarok: The way Loki attempts to justify his crimes in the In-Universe play he wrote: "I just couldn't help myself. I'm a trickster!" Thor contests it later in the movie when he notes that Loki could both be who he is (the God of Mischief) and change for the better.

  • In Jingo, "71-hour Ahmed" points out that if this is a valid excuse for people to do bad things, then it's an equally valid excuse for those with a sense of justice to punish them:
    Oh, no doubt the man would suggest there were mitigating circumstances, that he had an unhappy childhood or was driven by Compulsive Well-Poisoning Disorder. But I have a compulsion to behead cowardly murderers.
  • Ambrose Bierce put the same point in another way in regards to free will. Even if a murderer can't help what they did, who's to say the person punishing them can either?
    "There's no free will," says the philosopher;
    "To hang is most unjust."
    "There is no free will," assents the officer;
    "We hang because we must."
  • Akma from "Earthbound" of the Homecoming Series teaches his followers that the way God wants them to act is whatever way they feel compelled. If you are hungry, it is because God wants you to eat. If you want to have sex, it is because God wants you to produce children. Therefore, if you feel repulsed by the company of "diggers" (a species of rodent-people used as an allegory for an oppressed race), then you have every right to exile them from the empire.
  • Animorphs: A favorite tactic of the Yeerks to silence people who protest against their parasitic enslavement of any alien race they come across is to claim that they evolved as parasites and are just doing what parasites do. Aftran 492 compares it to human predation of cows and pigs, but the only person she manages to convince is Cassie.
  • In The Dark Tower series (the book Wizard and Glass), Eddie uses a combination of Appeal to Audacity and Logic Bomb to disable a malevolent AI with silly and nonsensical riddles. Roland, a very serious and straightforward Straight Man who had previously derided this tactic, is forced to apologize. Eddie waves it away saying that "you can't help your nature."
  • The Dresden Files:
    • Harry's first meeting with Mab ends with her telling him the story of the scorpion and the frog, to illustrate that, even when carrying out her mission will be extremely dangerous and put him through a lot of pain, she is quite certain that he will do it anyway, even when he knows it will likely kill him as refusing will be his death anyway.
    • This is also brought up by Archangel Uriel with regards to Harry. Uriel can see the multiple paths people can choose to make as well as all the choices they made to this point, but by a certain point in their lives Uriel has a very good sense of what their nature will drive them to do. This isn't to say he is overriding their free will, which is forbidden by Him, but rather anticipating the human will be true to himself. In regards to Harry Uriel knew in three minor events he would help change things for the better, after he was kind to a woman whose child was nearly hit by a car, hexed some construction equipment so a drunk worker could sober up, and gave a heartfelt talk with a young girl who didn't know what to do in life, Uriel tells Harry that, respectively, the observation of a bruise on the child will snap the mother awake to the abuse her husband is doing and move out with the child ending a hundred year cycle of abuse in that family, the drunk worker's child will become sick and her only hope is a transplant and the father is a perfect match, and the conversation with the young lady will inspire her to be a counselor who will help thousands of people. All that said, Harry does shock Uriel by wanting to send Uriel a bill for services rendered (Uriel first thought Harry was trying to bill Him but Harry isn't that prideful). When Harry threatens to not help people if he isn't compensated, Uriel chuckles warmly and tells him, "No. You won't." Harry then notes Uriel is probably right.
    • The spirit of this trope is often in play whenever Harry tries to have a civil conversation with the Fae; their particular nature gives them an inability to tell a direct lie, but serious discomfort from making clear, unambiguous statements and a compulsion to obey their rules and principles of balance, meaning that any conversation with them (even when they're genuinely trying to be helpful,) will be full of Exact Words, riddles and guesswork. Infuriating as he finds it, Harry eventually accepts that he just has to put up with it, and that a Fae who appears to be being obstructive may actually be doing everything to help him that their nature allows.
  • Discussed in the Fablehaven series, where it is pointed out that magical creatures are not (generally) "good" or "evil" so much as "light" or "dark". Goblins are not cruel because they're evil, but because they are goblins and that's how goblins act. Of course, it's also pointed out that just because it is in a creature's nature to act a certain way, doesn't mean that we have a moral obligation to let it act that way. By all means lock up the goblins so they cannot express their cruelty on the innocent.
  • Laura E. Richards once wrote a story about a man who received a visit from the "Angel-Who-Attends-To-Things", who criticizes his work as slapdash and lazy. The man concedes to the criticisms, but tells the angel that he should have realized that the man can't help the way he was made. The angel then throws him bodily into a ditch, and, when the man complains, he answers that this was the way he was made.
  • The Marquis de Sade often had his libertine characters claim they couldn't help being sadistic murderers, rapists, torturers and so on-that's just their nature. He supported this by also saying there's no free will. They also claimed everyone's like them deep down, but have just been indoctrinated to think differently, despite the fact that this contradicts the first argument.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In a crossover between media and real life, this fallacy often shows up on reality shows, with at least one contestant each season declaring proudly "That's just who I am," when called out for acting like a bigot, an asshat, or a bitch.
  • When Aeryn in Farscape says that John Crichton is obsessed with sex, he says, "I'm a guy!"
  • In the ITV series Primeval, a character who has been raising an orphaned sabretooth since it was a cub insists that the now fully grown cat would never attack her. Which, naturally, it does. This is Truth in Television for the caretakers of dangerous wild animals.
  • The Sandman, "A Dream of a Thousand Cats": The cat prophet tells her audience that if as few as a thousand cats dream of utopia together, they can change the world. One of them remarks afterward to a friend that it's a nice idea, but he can't imagine anyone managing to get that many cats to obey instructions at the same time.
  • Summarized quite nicely in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine by the 217th Rule of Acquisition: "You can't free a fish from water."
  • Mary in Downton Abbey, who argues that she's inherently contrary and that it would be against her character to want to marry anyone who anyone else wanted her to marry.
  • The general aesop of Malcolm in the Middle, that "Life is unfair", is really only possible because of the fallacy that nothing can be done about the way people are. The sub-Aesop is that there will always be authority figures in your lives that are unfair, and there's nothing you can do about it...nor should you, because that's just who they are. This, of course, means that the authority figures on this show can behave like jerks and use this justification as an excuse to avoid having to change their behavior; after all, it is in authority figure's nature to be unfair, so they are not to be subject to criticism when they behave so. (Also, when Malcolm calls out the various adults on using this excuse, the show wants us to think Malcolm is being an Emo Teen.)

  • The old vaudeville tune "How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Loved You When You Know I've Been A Liar All My Life?".
  • InThe Snake by Al Wilson it's the story of the woman who revives a poor frozen snake, who then bites her.

    Myths & Religion 
  • In the form of The Tale of the Scorpion and the Turtle, it dates back to an ancient Sanskrit collection of folklore that was first translated into English in 1570.
    A scorpion, being a very poor swimmer, asked a turtle to carry him on his back across a river. "Are you mad?" exclaimed the turtle. "You'll sting me while I'm swimming and I'll drown."
    "My dear turtle," laughed the scorpion, "if I were to sting you, you would drown and I would go down with you. Now where is the sense in that?"
    "You're right!" cried the turtle. "Hop on!" The scorpion climbed aboard and halfway across the river gave the turtle a mighty sting. As they both sank to the bottom, the turtle resignedly said, "Do you mind if I ask you something? You said there'd be no sense in your stinging me. Why did you do it?"
    "It has nothing to do with sense," the drowning scorpion sadly replied. "It's just my nature to sting."
  • A similar tale about a jackal and a camel uses this trope twice. The jackal wants to get at some tasty crabs on the other side of the river, but he's not a strong enough swimmer to beat the current. A camel comes along to get at the sugarcane that's also across the river, and agrees to ferry the jackal across. So the jackal eats his fill, but being much smaller than the camel he finishes before the camel has a chance to get more than a couple of mouthfuls; and, being full and happy, he prances about, yipping at the top of his jackal lungs, alerting the farmers to his presence and that of the camel. As the camel is swimming back across, he demands, "What the hell was that?!" "Sorry," says the jackal, "when I'm full I just feel like dancing around and yapping. It's just how I am." So the camel starts rolling over and over in the river. "What are you doing?!" cries the jackal. "Oh, sorry," says the camel, "But whenever I finish eating something I just feel like rolling over and over and over. It's just how I am."

    Tabletop Games 
  • One of the most universally despised yet virtually ubiquitous excuses for bad behavior in role-playing games is "I'm just doing what my character would do" (and its little brother "I'm just acting my alignment"). As if once one has written "Chaotic Neutral" on his character sheet (through no fault of his own, presumably), it would be a sin against role-playing not to do something random, disruptive, and, if possible, stupid every now and then. Because that's what Chaotic Neutral people do! And it's not just players - more than one party has been betrayed and attacked by an NPC they were currently in the process of helping simply because the GM noticed its race's alignment was evil, and why would an evil person pass up an opportunity to do something nasty?
    • The most infamous example would have to be the Paladin class in Dungeons & Dragons, holy warriors who were required to be Lawful Good. So many players - many of whom were perfectly capable of playing non-paladin Lawful Good characters as reasonable individuals - felt that the only acceptable characterization for a paladin was the aggressively evangelistic Knight Templar whose only possible reaction to any situation was to demand everyone share his beliefs and kill anyone who didn't immediately fall in line, so that the phrase "Lawful Stupid" was coined to describe the class as a whole. The 4th Edition of D&D removed the alignment restriction, but many players familiar with earlier editions still act that way, because "that's just how paladins are."
      • Not helped by the source books openly encouraging players to operate this way in earlier editions: other lawful good characters are just required to respect any oaths or promises they make during play, but Paladins start with a pre-written set of oaths, written by the Game Master from the perspective of a bellicose and wrathful god, which they must enforce to the utmost of their ability or lose their powers outright and be reduced from one of the more powerful combat classes to a weaker version of a fighter (fighter already being the least powerful class in the game). Essentially, Appeal To Inherent Nature was an intentionally-added class feature.
    • The obvious problem with applying the trope under these particular conditions is of course that a tabletop RPG character is simply a figment of its creator's/controller's imagination with no independent existence or "inherent nature" in the first place. There are few if any claims of "I can't help it, it's my character's fault!" that cannot be countered with a variation on the question "Well, who wanted to play him/her that way?".
      • There's also the standard counter of killing the person and stating "It's what my character would do if he's being harassed by an insane person."
    • This complaint is complicated by the fact that your character basing his actions on the character's motivations and not the player's is what you're supposed to do in a "role playing" game, it's the definition of the term. And, in-character, you should in fact feel the actions are justified and rational. It only really goes beyond being exactly how it's supposed to work if the player insists that there shouldn't be consequences for acts consistent with his character.
  • Thoroughly mocked in Legend of the Five Rings. While this is a setting based on traditional Japanese ideals of cosmology (and thus, Advantages and Disadvantages tend to run in family lines), the fact that this isn't overall true causes a lot of unneeded misery in setting, since a lot of samurai believe it. For example, the great sage Shinsei told the founder of what would become the Scorpion Clan the folktale of the scorpion and the frog... except he changed the ending. When the frog asks why the scorpion stung the frog in the middle of a river, drowning them both, the scorpion replied "Little frog, I can swim." And indeed, the Clan as a whole is untrustworthy and dishonorable... as is their purpose, since their explicit title is "Underhand of the Emperor", the people who do the things Bushido prevents. Individual Scorpions are trained specifically how to spin this logical fallacy to their advantage; since everyone expects a Scorpion to be untrustworthy, they can lie by telling the truth.
  • This is one of the aspects of Green mana in Magic: The Gathering, due to how it is inspired by nature and its creatures, many of them being bound by instincts they did not choose to be born with; applied to sentient beings, however, it may cause problems for the color when it comes to take responsibility or holding others responsible for their actions.


    Video Games 
  • Used in the Extended Cut ending of Mass Effect 3, whereupon Shepard argues against the logic that the Catalyst chose to solve the problem of the Robot War by building robots that specifically start Robot Wars. The Catalyst refutes this statement by saying that its creations are only doing what they were programmed to do, and thus are not truly interested in war. Of course, seeing as they are his creations, the Catalyst is basically saying that the war occurs because organic civilizations refuse to sit back and allow themselves to be annihilated. Shepard can call him out on this.
    • But the Catalyst has a justification to being called out on, as well: his logic is that his machines aren't actually killing organics, they're preserving organics by grinding them into goo and preserving them in machine form, so their civilizations can live on in the form of knowledge. So, the Catalyst argues, it's not hypocritical to prevent synthetics from killing organics using these methods because he doesn't violate his own principle: he preserves organics, which, to him, isn't quite the same thing.
    • It's rather poignant that Shepard can convince a Reaper that they are the same thing. It shuts down when it realizes it is nothing more than a twisted mass grave.
  • Often used in World of Warcraft on role-playing servers by trolls. "I am role playing. My character is a jerk!"
  • One of the shifts in Garrett's character between the original Thief trilogy and the 2014 reboot is that, whereas in the original he needed to take burglary jobs to cover rent and other living expenses, Reboot!Garrett steals things because "It's what I do." Yahtzee Croshaw's review of the reboot pointed out that this removed a lot of the complexity from the character, countering, "No, it is what you are currently doing!"

    Web Comics 
  • A Sinfest strip illustrates the problem with this type of thinking when Fuchsia kicks dirt on Monique's shoes.
    Fuchsia: You deserved it, walking around like you're all that!
    Monique: It is my nature to be all that. It can't be helped.
    Fuchsia: Well, it's my nature to torch things!
    (they fight)

    Web Original 
  • Grandfather Scorpion from The Wanderer's Library, which directly references the tale of the scorpion and the turtle.
  • Dan Olson of Folding Ideas refers to a version of this as the "Thermian argument", a common line of discussion in pop culture where people excuse incredibly offensive subject matter in Speculative Fiction by declaring that that's the way the story's world works. The name of the argument comes from the fact that it treats completely invented material as an unchanging real world. As he points out, it's absurd to claim that anything in a story has to be a given way, because barring pure historical fiction or biography, the worlds of stories are entirely invented by their writers. He gives the example of trying to excuse criticism of a female character wearing Stripperiffic armor by saying that it's the armor of her tribe, when said tribal culture is entirely an invention of the author.
  • Shows up in Ian Danskin's video "There's Always A Bigger Fish" as the different between right wingers and left wingers, namely that the latter believe that human beings are by nature equal and the former believes they are by nature unequal. Leftist societies are democratic, and conservatives favor hierarchies, and reject the others' idea as unnatural. Danskin then retorts that all societies are constructed, and the one we have is the one we chose to have.

    Western Animation 
  • An episode of The Powerpuff Girls (1998) involved around an Animal Wrongs Group defending Mojo Jojo against the titular girls because they believed it was his natural instinct to do everything he did (including acting human, building complex machinery, and trying to conquer the city). According to the DVD commentary, this whole episode was a Take That! against people in real life who actually did think it was cruelty to animals to have Mojo get the crap kicked out of him every few episodes.

    Real Life 
  • In his confession, Serial Killer H. H. Holmes (who killed several dozen women around the time of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair) "justified" his murders this way.
    "I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing."
  • Those born with mental illness such as psychopathy often justify their actions this way. However, while you can't control everything, plenty of psychopaths have lived moral lives such as Dr. Robert Hare. Dr. Hare studied the brains of psychopathic murderers and found their minds were different than a "normal" person's. When he scanned his own mind out of curiosity, he found that, he too, was a psychopath. Yet, while his family knew he had empathy issues, they raised him well enough that he never became a criminal or an immoral man.
  • This is one of the founding principles of the United States. Referenced in the Declaration of Independence and codified in the Bill of Rights is the idea that all people have basic rights inherent in their humanity; they're not granted by the government and therefore the government can't justly revoke or suppress them. The writers claimed justification in rebelling against the king because of his interference with these natural rights.
    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights ... That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it...
  • Skeptical theism is a theodicy that basically uses this as the main argument: since God Is Good, evil is not in His nature, so whenever God does or allows something that appears evil to humans, this must be only because we lack the knowledge to understand how it is really good.
  • This is sadly a reason why some adults can be useless, claiming there's no point helping toddlers/children/teens treat others well because "it's not in their nature". Yes, Kids Are Cruel, but can be taught kindness (and without intervention or positive role models, are far less likely to grow out of bad behaviour).