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The Cognitive Bases of Moral Diversity workshop

Friday, September 24, 2021, 4:00 pm – Friday, October 8, 2021, 6:30 pm

SMASH Workshop: The cognitive bases of moral diversity

Organized in the frames of The Social Mind Area Scholarships (SMASH), an interdisciplinary PhD training and research program at CEU, this series of seminars explores the cognitive bases of moral diversity. It is very tempting to believe that humans have universal moral dispositions that allow the unique type of cooperation we see in our species. Indeed, psychologists have put forth hypotheses about human specific psychological mechanisms that would account for moral choices and judgments. Yet, these universalist hypotheses about moral judgements and choices seem to fall short of explaining their cultural variability. Social anthropologists, on the other hand, have provided evidence about the socio-cultural embeddedness of moral judgments and choices and their diversity. In fact, the cultural variability of moral judgements and choices constitutes an important challenge to the universalist claims. Are there, nonetheless, some psychological foundations of moral judgments and choices that are shared among all humans? Can these foundations help explain not just the commonality, but also the diversity of moral judgments and choices? The claims of psychologists looking for the universal psychological traits and those of social anthropologists emphasizing diversity can be made compatible through several theoretical avenues. Which are they, what evidence supports them and what criticisms do they face?? To what extent does culture modulate otherwise universal intuitions? Are these intuitions in fact the product of socialisation and cultural transmission? In other words, how do psychological mechanisms and cultural factors come into play in determining moral choices?

We will investigate the above questions focusing on three themes:

1. Moral reasoning and social inequality
2. Social conventions and moral norms
3. Cultural transmission of moral dispositions

These themes will be addressed in 3 connected seminars, with 3 speakers for each session and a panel of discussants. Each session will be held on one afternoon of the week, with an online discussion forum to string them together. Proposed dates: September 24, October 1 and October 8.


Christophe Heintz, Cognitive Science
Vlad Naumescu, Sociology and Social Anthropology
Angarika Deb, Pooja Venkatesh (SMASH PhD students)

Seminar 1 (24 Sept '21): Moral reasoning and social inequality
Seminar 2 (1 Oct '21): Social conventions and moral norms
Seminar 3 (8 Oct '21): Cultural transmission of moral dispositions

The workshop will be held in a full-online format, via Zoom. Each seminar will be led by 3 speakers presenting their work on the  topic, and a discussant bringing the talks together. 

If interested, please register on the following Google link:

In case you have questions, please contact Angarika Deb  <>.