What is the significance of our gut feelings? Can they disclose our deep selves or point to a shared human nature? The phenomenon of perpetrator disgust provides a uniquely insightful perspective by which to consider such questions. Across time and cultures, some individuals exhibit signs of distress while committing atrocities. They experience nausea, convulse, and vomit. Do such bodily responses reflect a moral judgment, a deep-seated injunction against atrocity? What conclusions can we draw about the relationship of our gut (...) feelings to human nature and moral frameworks? Drawing on a broad range of historical examples as well as the latest scholarship from the philosophical and scientific study of emotions, this book explores the relationship of cognition and emotion through the lens of perpetrator disgust. Considering a range of interpretations of this phenomenon, it becomes evident that gut feelings do not carry a straightforward and transparent intentionality in themselves, nor do they motivate any core, specific response; they are templates that can embody a broad range of values and morals. Using this core insight, the book proposes a contextual understanding of emotions, by which an agent’s environment shapes their available hermeneutic equipment—concepts, categories, names—that individuals rely on to make sense of their emotions and navigate the world. -/- Introduction attached . (shrink)
Is disgust morally valuable? The answer to that question turns, in large part, on what we can do to shape disgust for the better. But this cultivation question has received surprisingly little attention in philosophical debates. To address this deficiency, this article examines empirical work on disgust and emotion regulation. This research reveals that while we can exert some control over how we experience disgust, there’s little we can do to substantively change it at a more (...) fundamental level. These empirical insights have revisionary implications both for debates about disgust’s moral value and for our understanding of agency and moral development more generally. (shrink)
The problem of disgust has until recently been neglected in the scientific literature. In comparison to the scientific (psychological and metaphysical) interest that has been applied to hatred, anxiety, and similar phenomena, disgust — although a common and important factor in our emotional life — has been unexplored, or it has been viewed as a “higher degree of dislike,” as “nausea,” or as a phenomenon of the “repression of urges.” We here show how the feeling of disgust (...) possesses a unique and characteristic quality on the basis of a phenomenological investigation. (shrink)
Should laws about sex and pornography be based on social conventions about what is disgusting? Should felons be required to display bumper stickers or wear T-shirts that announce their crimes? This powerful and elegantly written book, by one of America's most influential philosophers, presents a critique of the role that shame and disgust play in our individual and social lives and, in particular, in the law.Martha Nussbaum argues that we should be wary of these emotions because they are associated (...) in troubling ways with a desire to hide from our humanity, embodying an unrealistic and sometimes pathological wish to be invulnerable. Nussbaum argues that the thought-content of disgust embodies "magical ideas of contamination, and impossible aspirations to purity that are just not in line with human life as we know it." She argues that disgust should never be the basis for criminalizing an act, or play either the aggravating or the mitigating role in criminal law it currently does. She writes that we should be similarly suspicious of what she calls "primitive shame," a shame "at the very fact of human imperfection," and she is harshly critical of the role that such shame plays in certain punishments.Drawing on an extraordinarily rich variety of philosophical, psychological, and historical references--from Aristotle and Freud to Nazi ideas about purity--and on legal examples as diverse as the trials of Oscar Wilde and the Martha Stewart insider trading case, this is a major work of legal and moral philosophy. (shrink)
Recent empirical research seems to show that emotions play a substantial role in moral judgment. Perhaps the most important line of support for this claim focuses on disgust. A number of philosophers and scientists argue that there is adequate evidence showing that disgust significantly influences various moral judgments. And this has been used to support or undermine a range of philosophical theories, such as sentimentalism and deontology. I argue that the existing evidence does not support such arguments. At (...) best it suggests something rather different: that moral judgment can have a minor emotive function, in addition to a substantially descriptive one. (shrink)
Disgust is a strong aversion, yet paradoxically it can constitute an appreciative aesthetic response to works of art. Artistic disgust can be funny, profound, sorrowful, or gross. This book examines numerous examples of disgust as it is aroused by art and offers a set of explanations for its aesthetic appeal.
Disgust, the emotion of rotting carcasses and slimy animalitos, finds itself at the center of several critical questions about human culture and cognition. This article summarizes recent developments, identify active points of debate, and provide an account of where the field is heading next.
Recent studies of spider phobia have indicated thatfearof spiders is closely associated with the disease-avoidance response of disgust. It is argued that the disgust-relevant status of the spider resulted from its association with disease and illness in European cultures from the tenth century onward. The development of the association between spiders and illness appears to be linked to the many devastating and inexplicable epidemics that struck Europe from the Middle Ages onwards, when the spider was a suitable displaced (...) target for the anxieties caused by these epidemics. Such factors suggest that the pervasive fear of spiders that is commonly found in many Western societies may have cultural rather than biological origins, and may be restricted to Europeans and their descendants. (shrink)
Despite the wealth of recent work implicating disgust as an emotion central to human morality, the nature of the causal relationship between disgust and moral judgment remains unclear. We distinguish between three related claims regarding this relationship, and argue that the most interesting claim (that disgust is a moralizing emotion) is the one with the least empirical support.
The emotion of disgust is suggested to be an adaptation that evolved to keep us away from sources of infection. Therefore, individuals from populations with greater pathogen stress should have a greater disgust sensitivity. However, current evidence for a positive relationship between disgust sensitivity and the intensity of infectious diseases in the environment is limited. We tested whether disgust and contamination sensitivity changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Disgust was assessed in 984 women in (...) 2017 and 633 women in 2020 by a set of photographs depicting sources of infection and Pathogen and Moral of Three-Domain Disgust Scale. Further, contamination sensitivity among participants in two waves was measured by Contamination Obsessions and Washing Compulsions Subscale of Padua Inventory. State anxiety was measured with the Polish adaptation of the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory only during the second wave of data collection. Women from the COVID-19 pandemic group assessed the photographs depicting sources of infection as more disgusting, scoring higher on Padua Inventory, but lower on Moral Disgust Domain as compared to women from before the pandemic. In addition, anxiety levels during pandemic positively correlated with scores from Pathogen Disgust Domain, Padua Inventory, and the ratings of the photographs. The participants of the study scored higher in state anxiety than the norms determined for the Polish population. Summarizing, we present evidence for differences in individual levels of disgust sensitivity in relation to pathogen stress, supporting the idea that disgust evolved to serve as protection from pathogens. (shrink)
Emergency situations require individuals to make important changes in their behavior. In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, official recommendations to avoid the spread of the virus include costly behaviors such as self-quarantining or drastically diminishing social contacts. Compliance (or lack thereof) with these recommendations is a controversial and divisive topic, and lay hypotheses abound regarding what underlies this divide. This paper investigates which cognitive, moral, and emotional traits separate people who comply with official recommendations from those who don't. In (...) four studies (three pre-registered) on both U.S. and French samples, we found that individuals' self-reported compliance with official recommendations during the COVID-19 pandemic was partly driven by individual differences in moral values, disgust sensitivity, and psychological reactance. We discuss the limitations of our studies and suggest possible applications in the context of health communication. (shrink)
Two studies demonstrate that a dispositional proneness to disgust (“disgust sensitivity”) is associated with intuitive disapproval of gay people. Study 1 was based on previous research showing that people are more likely to describe a behavior as intentional when they see it as morally wrong (see Knobe, 2006, for a review). As predicted, the more disgust sensitive participants were, the more likely they were to describe an agent whose behavior had the side effect of causing gay men (...) to kiss in public as having intentionally encouraged gay men to kiss publicly— even though most participants did not explicitly think it wrong to encourage gay men to kiss in public. No such effect occurred when subjects were asked about heterosexual kissing. Study 2 used the Implicit Association Test (IAT; Nosek, Banaji, & Greenwald, 2006) as a dependent measure. The more disgust sensitive participants were, the more they showed.. (shrink)
Suppose that disgust can provide evidence of moral wrongdoing. What account of disgust might make sense of this? A recent and promising theory is the social contagion view, proposed by Alexandra Plakias. After criticizing both its descriptive and normative claims, I draw two conclusions. First, we should question the wisdom of drawing so straight a line from biological poisons and pathogens to social counterparts. Second, we don’t need to explain the evidential value of disgust by appealing to (...) what the response tracks. These lessons point toward an alternative: namely, that disgust is a moral heuristic. On the heuristic view, disgust is a trigger for the subconscious use of a particular rule: I show how this view fits with a plausible hypothesis about the social function of disgust, and then apply it to Leon Kass’s famous use of repugnance to criticize cloning. (shrink)
People can be disgusted by the concrete and by the abstract -- by an object they find physically repellent or by an ideology or value system they find morally abhorrent. Different things will disgust different people, depending on individual sensibilities or cultural backgrounds. In _Yuck!_, Daniel Kelly investigates the character and evolution of disgust, with an emphasis on understanding the role this emotion has come to play in our social and moral lives. Disgust has recently been riding (...) a swell of scholarly attention, especially from those in the cognitive sciences and those in the humanities in the midst of the "affective turn." Kelly proposes a cognitive model that can accommodate what we now know about disgust. He offers a new account of the evolution of disgust that builds on the model and argues that expressions of disgust are part of a sophisticated but largely automatic signaling system that humans use to transmit information about what to avoid in the local environment. He shows that many of the puzzling features of moral repugnance tinged with disgust are by-products of the imperfect fit between a cognitive system that evolved to protect against poisons and parasites and the social and moral issues on which it has been brought to bear. Kelly's account of this emotion provides a powerful argument against invoking disgust in the service of moral justification. (shrink)
Women have consistently higher levels of disgust than men. This sex difference is substantial in magnitude, highly replicable, emerges with diverse assessment methods, and affects a wide array of outcomes—including job selection, mate choice, food aversions, and psychological disorders. Despite the importance of this far-reaching sex difference, sound theoretical explanations have lagged behind the empirical discoveries. In this article, we focus on the evolutionary-functional level of analysis, outlining hypotheses capable of explaining why women have higher levels of disgust (...) than men. We present four hypotheses for sexual disgust and six for pathogen disgust, along with testable predictions. Discussion focuses on additional new hypotheses and on future research capable of adjudicating among these competing, but not mutually exclusive, hypotheses. (shrink)
Contempt and disgust share a number of features which distinguish them from other hostile emotions: they both present two distinct facets—a nonmoral facet and a moral one; they both imply a negative evaluation of the dispositional kind as well as disrespect towards the target of the feeling; and they trigger avoidance and exclusion action tendencies. However, while sharing a common core, contempt and disgust are in our view distinct emotions, qualified by different cognitive-motivational features. Contempt is felt exclusively (...) towards human targets, and implies sense of superiority over them, pessimistic feelings about their possibility of betterment, detachment from them, and avoidance driven by detachment; whereas disgust can be directed at a wide range of possible targets, and implies contamination sensitivity, fear of contamination, and fear-driven avoidance. The differences between contempt and disgust are related to the different kinds of standard against which the target is evaluated, and the different kinds of disrespect engendered by the negative evaluation. (shrink)
This paper calls into question the idea that moral disgust is usefully regarded as a form of genuine disgust. This hypothesis is questionable even if, as some have argued, the spread of moral norms through a community makes use of signaling mechanisms that are central to core disgust. The signaling system is just one part of disgust, and may well be completely separable from it. Moreover, there is plausibly a significant difference between the cognitive scientist’s concept (...) of an emotion and the everyday notion of that emotion. Finally, even if, as this paper contests, some form of disgust were directly elicited by the moral wrongness of certain kinds of behavior, research on the socio-moral elicitors of the disgust mechanism would still be unlikely to shed much direct light on the nature or content of morality. (shrink)
Disgust, the emotion of rotting carcasses and slimy animalitos, finds itself at the center of several critical questions about human culture and cognition. This article summarizes recent developments, identify active points of debate, and provide an account of where the field is heading next.
The transparency thesis for disgust claims that what is disgusting in nature is always also disgusting in art. Versions of the thesis have been endorsed by, among others, Kant, Lessing, Mendelssohn, and, more recently, Arthur Danto, Carolyn Korsmeyer, and Jenefer Robinson. The present paper articulates and discusses different readings of the thesis. It concludes that the transparency thesis is false.
Individuals with trypophobia have an aversion towards clusters of roughly circular shapes, such as those on a sponge or the bubbles on a cup of coffee. It is unclear why the condition exists, given the harmless nature of typical eliciting stimuli. We suggest that aversion to clusters is an evolutionarily prepared response towards a class of stimuli that resemble cues to the presence of parasites and infectious disease. Trypophobia may be an exaggerated and overgeneralised version of this normally adaptive response. (...) Consistent with this explanation, individuals with trypophobia, as well as comparison individuals, reported aversion towards disease-relevant cluster stimuli, but only the trypophobic group reported aversion towards objectively harmless cluster stimuli that had no relevance to disease. For both groups the level of aversion reported was predicted uniquely by a measure of disgust sensitivity. Scaled emotion ratings and open-ended responses revealed that the aversive response was predominantly based on the disease avoidance emotion, disgust. Many open-ended responses also described skin sensations. These findings support the proposal that individuals with trypophobia primarily perceive cluster stimuli as cues to ectoparasites and skin-transmitted pathogens. (shrink)
Disgust is not a pleasant subject. It is perhaps partly for this reason that it has not been much discussed in philosophical literature, or, indeed anywhere else. Disgust has considerable moral significance however, and appreciating its significance will illuminate the present state of our morality. One may be led to this view by reflecting on several recent works on pollution. The pollution in question, of course, is not of the air, soil, or water, but that of people who (...) have violated moral taboos of their society'. (shrink)
Disgust is often believed to have no special moral relevance. However, there are situations where disgust and similar feelings like revulsion, repugnance, or abhorrence function as the expression of a very strong moral disapproval that cannot fully be captured by argument. I call this kind of disgust moral disgust.Although it is always in principle possible to justify our moral disgust by explaining what it is in a given situation or action that disgusts us, the feeling (...) of disgust often comes first and either draws our attention to the fact that there is something wrong in the first place, or makes us aware that the kind of wrongness we are dealing with surpasses what can be accounted for by established moral theory. In both cases moral disgust serves an important purpose for an adequate moral evaluation of diverse situations and the actions from which they result. (shrink)
I sketch and defend an imperativist treatment of the phenomenology associated with disgusting smells. This treatment, I argue, allows us to make better sense than other intentionalist alter-natives both of the neuroanatomy of olfaction, and of a natural pre-theoretical stance regarding the sense of smell.
In paragraph 48 of the Critique of Judgment, Immanuel Kant claimed that ‘only one kind of ugliness cannot be represented in accordance with nature without destroying all aesthetic satisfaction, hence artistic beauty, namely that which arouses disgust.’ However, from Baudelaire to Damien Hirst, there have been artists who delight in arousing disgust through their works, and many of these disgusting works, such as Baudelaire's Une Charogne, have high aesthetic merit. In her splendid new book, Savoring Disgust, Carolyn (...) Korsmeyer rejects Kant's suggestion and argues that there is something called ‘aesthetic disgust,’ that is, ‘the arousal of disgust in an audience, a spectator, or a reader, under circumstances where that emotion both apprehends artistic properties and constitutes a component of appreciation.’. (shrink)
ABSTRACT It has been argued that so-called moral disgust is either not really moral or not really disgust. I maintain that sceptics are wrong: there is a distinct emotional response best described as ‘moral disgust’. I offer an account of its constitutive features.
In Savoring Disgust, Carolyn Korsmeyer argues that disgust is peculiar amongst emotions, for it does not need any of the standard solutions to the so-called paradox of fiction. I argue that Korsmeyer’s arguments in support of the peculiarity of disgust with respect to the paradox of fiction are not successful.
The present volume is, we believe, the first-ever edited volume devoted to the emotion of disgust. In this chapter we address the following issues: 1. Why was disgust almost completely ignored until about 1990, 2. Why has there been a great increase in attention to disgust since about 1990?, 3. The outline of an integrative, body-to-soul preadaptation theory of disgust, 4. Some specific features of disgust that make it particularly susceptible to laboratory research and particularly (...) appropriate to address some fundamental issues in psychology. In the final section, we outline some new questions that arise from the recent increased interest in disgust in the areas of brain mechanisms, psychopathology, the psychometric approach to the structure of disgust, and disgust and morality. We then indicate some important aspects of disgust that have yet to receive systematic investigation. (shrink)
Moral emotions are evolved mechanisms that function in part to optimize social relationships. We discuss two moral emotions— disgust and the “cuteness response”—which modulate social-engagement motives in opposite directions, changing the degree to which the eliciting entity is imbued with mental states (i.e., mentalized). Disgust-inducing entities are hypo-mentalized (i.e., dehumanized); cute entities are hyper-mentalized (i.e., “humanized”). This view of cuteness—which challenges the prevailing view that cuteness is a releaser of parental instincts (Lorenz, 1950/1971)—explains (a) the broad range of (...) affiliative behaviors elicited by cuteness, (b) the marketing of cuteness to children (by toy makers and animators) to elicit play, and (c) the apparent ease and frequency with which cute things are anthropomorphized. (shrink)
Would a just society or government absolutely refrain from shaming or humiliating any of its members? "No," says this essay. It describes morally acceptable uses of shame, stigma and disgust as tools of social control in a decent (just) society. These uses involve criminal law, tort law, and informal social norms. The standard of moral acceptability proposed for determining the line is a version of perfectionistic prioritarian consequenstialism. From this standpoint, criticism is developed against Martha Nussbaum's view that to (...) respect the dignity of each person, society absolutely must refrain from certain ways of shaming and humiliating its members and rendering them objects of communal disgust. (shrink)
The uniquely human emotion of disgust is intimately connected to morality in many, perhaps all, cultures. We report two studies suggesting that a predisposition to feel disgust is associated with more conservative political attitudes, especially for issues related to the moral dimension of purity. In the first study, we document a positive correlation between disgust sensitivity and self-reported conservatism in a broad sample of US adults. In Study 2 we show that while disgust sensitivity is associated (...) with more conservative attitudes on a range of political issues, this relationship is strongest for purity-related issues—specifically, abortion and gay marriage. (shrink)
Although prior work on ethical decision-making has examined the direct impact of magnitude of consequences as well as the direct impact of emotions on ethical judgments, the current research examines the interaction of these two constructs. Building on previous research finding disgust to have a varying impact on ethical judgments depending on the specific behavior being evaluated, we investigate how disgust, as well as happiness and sadness, moderates the effect of magnitude of consequences on an individual’s judgments of (...) another person’s unethical behavior. Specifically, we propose and find that because disgust and happiness are both associated with more heuristic-based processing, they both lead to a stronger reliance on the magnitude of consequences when forming ethical judgments. In contrast, because sad and neutral emotional states are associated with more systematic processing, they both result in a weaker reliance on the magnitude of consequences. As such, the effect of magnitude of consequences on judgments of unethical behaviors is stronger when individuals making the judgments are experiencing disgust or happiness versus sadness or a neutral state. This research shows that ethical judgment severity is contingent on individual-level factors, particularly the current emotional state being experienced by the individual, interacting with magnitude of consequences to impact the ethical decision-making process. (shrink)
Martha Nussbaum’s Hiding from Humanity is eloquent and thought-provoking. I criticize some of her central arguments, particularly her construal of disgust and her exposition of shame. But I applaud the book as a whole. It is possible that richness and engagement are more important in the work of public intellectuals than is technical precision. If so, Nussbaum has fulfilled her role. It is more likely that both qualities are important, but difficult to combine. In that case, we can still (...) thank her for having given us much of great significance to think about. (shrink)
Harm reduction has been advocated to address a diverse range of public health concerns. The moral justification of harm reduction is usually presumed to be consequentialist because the goal of harm reduction is to reduce the harmful health consequences of risky behaviors, such as substance use. Harm reduction is contrasted with an abstinence model whose goal is to eradicate or reduce the prevalence of such behaviors. The abstinence model is often thought to be justified by ‘deontological’ considerations: it is claimed (...) that many risky behaviors are morally unacceptable, and therefore that we have a moral obligation to recommend abstinence. Because harm reduction is associated with a consequentialist justification and the abstinence model is associated with a deontological justification, the potential for a deontological justification of harm reduction has been overlooked. This paper addresses this gap. It argues that the moral duty to protect autonomy and dignity that has been advocated in other areas of medical ethics also justifies the public health policy of harm reduction. It offers two examples—the provision of supervised injection sites and the Housing First policy to address homelessness—to illustrate the argument. (shrink)
Recently, many critics have argued that disgust is a morally harmful emotion, and that it should play no role in our moral and legal reasoning. Here we defend disgust as a morally beneficial moral capacity. We believe that a variety of liberal norms have been inappropriately imported into both moral psychology and ethical studies of disgust: disgust has been associated with conservative authors, values, value systems, and modes of moral reasoning that are seen as inferior to (...) the values and moral emotions that are endorsed by liberal critics. Here we argue that the meta-ethical assumptions employed by the critics of disgust are highly contentious and in some cases culture bound. Given this, we should avoid adopting simplified meta-ethical positions in experimental moral psychology, as these can skew the design and interpretation of experiments, and blind us to the potential value of moral disgust harnessed in the service of liberal ends. (shrink)
The self-ownership thesis asserts, roughly, that agents own their minds and bodies in the same way that they can own extra-personal property. One common strategy for defending the self-ownership thesis is to show that it accords with our intuitions about the wrongness of various acts involving the expropriation of body parts. We challenge this line of defense. We argue that disgust explains our resistance to these sorts of cases and present results from an original psychological experiment in support of (...) this hypothesis. We argue further that learning that disgust is responsible for pro-self-ownership intuitions should reduce our confidence in those intuitions. After considering and rejecting some prominent “debunking” arguments predicated on disgust’s evolutionary history, we provide alternative reasons for thinking that disgust is not a reliable source of moral judgments. Rejecting the reliability of disgust as a mechanism for producing moral beliefs coheres with our considered judgments about the general kinds of considerations that are morally relevant and a range of particular moral problems. (shrink)
Disgust is an emotion that is visceral, reactive, and uncomfortable. It is also purposively aroused by art in ways that contribute substantially to the meaning of a work. In such cases “aesthetic disgust” is a component of understanding and appreciation. Disgust comes in many varieties, including the humorous, the horrid, and the tragic. The responses it elicits can be strong or subtle, but few are actually pleasant. Therefore aesthetic disgust raises an ancient question: how is it (...) that emotions aroused in practical life become the focus of pleasure or enjoyment when they are aroused by art? This paper reviews a number of accounts of aesthetic satisfaction in disgust, arguing that the most profound uses convey an immediate and visceral grasp of physical vulnerability and mortality. (shrink)
At many slaughterhouses, if a pregnant cow is killed, then medical companies pay to harvest the fetus's blood. When you communicate the details of this process to people, many of them are disgusted. I submit that those who are repulsed thereby acquire a reason to believe that this practice is morally wrong. However, it is controversial to maintain that disgust can provide moral guidance. So, I develop a theory of disgust’s moral salience that fits with the empirical work (...) that’s been done on it, and I apply it to the collection of bovine fetal blood. I conclude by suggesting how this theory may be of use in animal ethics generally. (shrink)
Psychological research has been discovering a number of puzzling features of morality and moral cognition recently.2 Zhong & Liljenquist (2006) found that when people are asked to think about an unethical deed or recall one they themselves have committed in the past, issues of physical cleanliness become salient. Zhong & Liljenquist cleverly designate this phenomenon the “Macbeth Effect,” and it takes some interesting forms. For instance, reading a story describing an immoral deed increased people’s desire for products related to cleansing, (...) like a shower soap, disinfectants, or antiseptic wipes. Moreover, Zhong & Liljenquist found that cleaning one’s hands after describing a past unethical deed actually reduced moral emotions such as guilt and shame. So much so that those who did “wash away their sins” were less likely than other participants to help out a.. (shrink)
Disgust has been a perennial feature of art from medieval visions of hell to postmodern travesties. The purpose of this chapter is to chart various ways in which disgust functions in artworks both in terms of content and style, canvassing cases in which the content and/or style is literally disgusting in contrast to cases where the disgust serves to characterize the content, often for moral or political or broader cultural purposes.
Vaccine refusers often seem motivated by disgust, and they invoke ideas of purity, contamination and sanctity. Unfortunately, the emotion of disgust and its companion ideas are not directly responsive to the probabilistic and statistical evidence of research science. It follows that increased efforts to promulgate the results of vaccine science are not likely to contribute to increased rates of vaccination among persons who refuse vaccines because of the ‘ethics of sanctity’. Furthermore, the fact that disgust-based vaccine refusal (...) is not monolithic – vaccine refusers manifest disgust at different objects and invoke different ideas about purity and contamination – further complicates public health efforts to increase vaccination rates. (shrink)