Institut Jean Nicod

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Lundi 29 juin de 9h à 11h

Conférence du Professeur Alejandro Rosas

(Université Nationale de Colombie)

"Norms against harm and the moral domain"

Institut Jean-Nicod, ENS, 29, rue d'Ulm 75005 Paris.
Salle de réunion, RDC.


About Alejandro Rosas:

He received his PhD in 1991 at the University of Münster, Germany, with a dissertation on Kant’s Refutation of Idealism. He later made a turn towards Philosophical Naturalism and began a research project on the explanation of human morality, drawing insights from the behavioural, evolutionary and cognitive sciences. He teaches Philosophy at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia since 1992. He has been research fellow of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research and John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. Publications at


"Norms against harm and the moral domain"


Is preventing actions that intentionally harm innocent people a core, and unifying, concern of moral norms independently of cultural setting? One way of reading the experimental findings of Turiel and colleagues is as providing support for the following double claim: i. children from different cultures use (implicitly) already at 4 years of age the concept of harming innocent others to discriminate moral from conventional norms; and ii. they continue doing this as adults. Let us label this double claim “Turiel’s Thesis” (TT). Obviously, TT is an empirical claim. If it is shown 1. that some culture or group endorses moral norms that are not about harming actions; or 2. that in some culture or group, at least one harming behaviour is not a subject matter for moral, but rather for conventional norms, then TT is shown to be false. I discuss two experiments that were designed to show exactly this: 1. Haidt el al (1993) presented evidence that persons of low SES moralise norms about disgusting behaviours that harm nobody; 2. Kelly et al. (2007) presented evidence that some harming behaviours are not viewed as “wrong” in a moral sense, but only relative to the prohibitions of particular authorities. I examine some features of both experiments and argue that their design casts doubt on the evidence they provide against TT. TT still deserves consideration as an empirical claim about the core content of moral norms.