He worked at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is best known for his theoretical work regarding the existence, characteristics and relevance of universals of human nature. In his best-known work, Human Universals (1991), he says these universals, "comprise those features of culture, society, language, behavior, and psyche for which there are no known exceptions." He is quoted at length by Steven Pinker in an appendix to The Blank Slate (2002), where Pinker cites some of the hundreds of universals listed by Brown. In area studies his doctoral research on the structure and history of Brunei was foundational.