Universal Moral Grammar and Implications
On philosophy bites, John Mikhail speaks with support of empirical evidence in favor of an innate basis to our sense of right and wrong, somewhat analogous to Chomsky's ideas on universal grammar.
I have always leaned towards the idea of an innate universal moral grammar and I think its very likely to be correct. However, the actual problem of normative ethics still remains unsolved, even if this theory is correct. For instance, we all have an intuitive physics, but much of that intuitive physics is wrong. How do we know that the innate morality does indeed provide the best answers to moral questions? If we have a dilemma where an act leads to increased well-being of a large number of people but that act clashes strongly with our conscience (innate moral sense), how do we know that following the conscience is indeed the morally best thing to do?
Another aspect to note is that the universal moral grammar applies to broad elementary questions of morality (such as when is it wrong to harm someone), and cannot really be applied to more sophisticated notions, such as freedom of speech, or more complex moral problems, such as elective abortion, where possibly basic rules conflict with each (harming the fetus vs psycho-social well-being of the mother) confounding the innate sense.
If Universal Moral Grammar theory is correct, and I believe so, then we need to distinguish between two categories of questions in Ethics.
The first question is broadly psychological: What does our innate moral sense tell us about right and wrong?
The second question is philosophical: Do we have good reasons to act in one way rather than another?
Neither of these questions can be ignored, because in practice, much of our everyday moral judgements and actions remain intuitive, and are likely to remain so, regardless of what we may think of morality philosophically. Even a nihilist doesn't stop acting on what he strongly feels to be right; we are limited by our psychology in what we do.