Innateness and Moral Psychology *

Shaun Nichols

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


This chapter argues that the recent attempts to use Chomsky-style arguments in support of innate moral knowledge are uniformly unconvincing. The chapter proceeds as follows: Section 1 sets out the basic form of the central argument in the Chomskian arsenal - the poverty of the stimulus (POS) argument, as well as the conclusions about domain specificity and innate propositional knowledge that are supposed to follow. Section 2 distinguishes three hypotheses about innateness and morality: rule nativism, moral principle nativism, and moral judgment nativism. Sections 3-5 consider each of these hypotheses. It is argued that while there is some reason to favour rule nativism, the arguments that moral principles and moral judgment derive from innate moral knowledge don't work. The capacity for moral judgment is better explained by appeal to innate affective systems rather than innate moral knowledge. In the final section, it is argued that the role of such affective mechanisms in structuring the mind complicates the standard picture about poverty of the stimulus arguments and nativism. For the affective mechanisms that influence cognitive structures can make contributions that are neither domain general nor domain specific.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Innate Mind
Subtitle of host publicationStructure and Contents
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780199869794
ISBN (Print)9780195179675
StatePublished - Jan 1 2007


  • Affective systems
  • Chomsky
  • Innate moral knowledge
  • Morality
  • Nativism
  • Poverty of the stimulus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Innateness and Moral Psychology *'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this