By Jason A. Clark and Philip A. Powell
Many argue that moral disgust developed as a regulator of social behavior, and that it still dutifully serves that purpose (Tybur et al. 2013). However, a growing number have criticised disgust as a morally objectionable emotion in modern society, emphasizing features that, while adaptive in response to pathogens, render disgust unsuitable for policing morality (Nussbaum 2009; Kelly 2011; Bloom 2013). These include: cognitive and behavioral inflexibility, the generation of “dumbfounded” moral judgments lacking reasons, insensitivity to contextual factors and reappraisal, dehumanization, and a focus on the whole person, rather than their actions (Schnall et al. 2008; Russell & Giner-Sorolla 2011).
Critics of disgust compare it unfavorably with other moral emotions (especially anger), which they hold to be more flexible and reasoned, and lump it together with related emotions such as shame, which are often viewed negatively for similar reasons. Specifically moral critiques of disgust have been largely qualitative, based on historical case studies and anecdotal examples. Arguments condemning disgust as a moral emotion emphasise disgust’s negative role in instances of stigmatization, such as homophobia, racism, and genocide.
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