The case for moral empiricism

Shaun Nichols

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


It is an old and venerable idea in philosophy that morality is built into us, and this nativist view has seen a resurgence of late. Indeed, the prevailing systematic account of how we acquire complex moral representations is a nativist view inspired by arguments in Chomskyan linguistics. In this article, I review the leading argument for moral nativism-the poverty of the moral stimulus. I defend a systematic empiricist alternative that draws on the resources of statistical learning. Such an empiricist account, I argue, promises to explain much of the complexity of people's moral and other normative attitudes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)549-567
Number of pages19
JournalAnalysis (United Kingdom)
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • nativism, empiricism, poverty of the stimulus argument, statistical learning, the act/allow distinction, moral psychology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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