Rational Learners and Moral Rules

Shaun Nichols, Shikhar Kumar, Theresa Lopez, Alisabeth Ayars, Hoi Yee Chan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


People draw subtle distinctions in the normative domain. But it remains unclear exactly what gives rise to such distinctions. On one prominent approach, emotion systems trigger non-utilitarian judgments. The main alternative, inspired by Chomskyan linguistics, suggests that moral distinctions derive from an innate moral grammar. In this article, we draw on Bayesian learning theory to develop a rational learning account. We argue that the ‘size principle’, which is implicated in word learning, can also explain how children would use scant and equivocal evidence to interpret candidate rules as applying more narrowly than utilitarian rules.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)530-554
Number of pages25
JournalMind and Language
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Philosophy
  • Linguistics and Language


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