Is there a universal moral sense?

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


There is now increasing evidence for significant “moral universals”—that is, patterns of ethical principles that are recognized by virtually every human society. James Q. Wilson has assembled an engaging collection of this evidence for the existence of a “moral sense”. At least in regard to the universality of the key features of sympathy and a sense of fairness or reciprocity, Wilson is right. Indeed, these features are even more universal than Wilson realizes: they extend to our closest nonhuman relatives as well. Yet the claim that these facts are best accounted for by positing the existence of a “moral sense” remains vague. Particularly when we consider what Wilson calls “the universal aspiration,” the basis of this tendency in our moral thinking is as likely to lie in our capacity to reason as in our moral sentiments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)325-339
Number of pages15
JournalCritical Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 1995
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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