Moral Intuitions and Moral Nativism
The Oxford Handbook of Moral Psychology (M. Vargas & J. Doris, Eds.), Forthcoming
45 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2020 Last revised: 25 Oct 2021
Date Written: December 10, 2020
Moral nativism is a theory which holds that significant elements of moral psychology are innate. This invited chapter for The Oxford Handbook of Moral Psychology first summarizes the intuitive turn in moral psychology and explains its significance for moral nativism. Drawing on an analogy to language, the chapter outlines two principal arguments for moral nativism: the argument for moral grammar and the argument from the poverty of the stimulus. After making some terminological clarifications and correcting some popular misconceptions, the chapter then reviews some of the most significant research supporting moral nativism, including studies of compassion, empathy, and altruistic motivation in humans and other primates; the intuitive jurisprudence of young children; the emergence of moral cognition in human infants and toddlers; the neurocognitive foundations of moral judgment; and human moral universals. The chapter concludes by locating moral nativism within a broader historical and scientific context, including ancient philosophy (e.g., Plato’s Meno), Enlightenment rationalism (e.g., Descartes’ Treatise on Man), evolutionary theory (e.g., Darwin’s Descent of Man), and the modern cognitive science of innate knowledge in various domains.
Keywords: moral intuitions, moral nativism, moral grammar, moral psychology, moral development, moral universals, cognitive neuroscience, legal anthropology, intuitive jurisprudence, deontic modality, empathy, altruism, Plato, Descartes, Hume, Kant, Darwin
JEL Classification: D63, D64, K00, K13, K14
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation