Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 16 (2):261-278 (2013)

Alexandra Plakias
Hamilton College
Recent empirical studies have established that disgust plays a role in moral judgment. The normative significance of this discovery remains an object of philosophical contention, however; ‘disgust skeptics’ such as Martha Nussbaum have argued that disgust is a distorting influence on moral judgment and has no legitimate role to play in assessments of moral wrongness. I argue, pace Nussbaum, that disgust’s role in the moral domain parallels its role in the physical domain. Just as physical disgust tracks physical contamination and pollution, so moral disgust tracks social contamination. I begin by examining the arguments for skepticism about disgust and show that these arguments threaten to overgeneralize and lead to a widespread skepticism about the justifiability of our moral judgments. I then look at the positive arguments for according disgust a role in moral judgment, and suggest that disgust tracks invisible social contagions in much the same way as it tracks invisible physical contagions, thereby serving as a defense against the threat of socio-moral contamination.
Keywords Disgust  Moral judgment  Emotion  Cognition
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s10677-012-9334-y
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 71,410
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Ethics and Intuitions.Peter Singer - 2005 - The Journal of Ethics 9 (3-4):331-352.
The Secret Joke of Kant’s Soul.Joshua Greene - 2007 - In W. Sinnott-Armstrong (ed.), Moral Psychology, Vol. 3. MIT Press.

View all 28 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Does Disgust Influence Moral Judgment?Joshua May - 2014 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 92 (1):125-141.
Experimental Moral Philosophy.Mark Alfano, Don Loeb & Alex Plakias - 2018 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:1-32.
Emotion.Charlie Kurth - 2022 - Routledge.

View all 30 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Disgust: The Body and Soul Emotion in the 21st Century.P. Rozin, J. Haidt & C. R. McCauley - 2009 - In B. O. Olatunji & D. McKay (eds.), Disgust and its disorders. American Psychological Association. pp. 2008.
Hiding From Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law.Thom Brooks - 2007 - Journal of Applied Philosophy 24 (3):329–331.
De-Moralizing Disgustingness.Christopher Knapp - 2003 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 66 (2):253–278.


Added to PP index

Total views
229 ( #49,896 of 2,519,857 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
5 ( #137,465 of 2,519,857 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes