Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Monday, May 31, 2021

Disgust Can Be Morally Valuable

Charlie Kurth
Scientific American
Originally posted 9 May 21

Here is no an excerpt:

Let’s start by considering disgust’s virtues. Not only do we tend to experience disgust toward moral wrongs like hypocrisy and exploitation, but the shunning and social excluding that disgust brings seems a fitting response to those who pollute the moral fabric in these ways. Moreover, in the face of worries about morally problematic disgust—disgust felt at the wrong time or in the wrong way—advocates respond that it’s an emotion we can substantively change for the better.

On this front, disgust’s advocates point to exposure and habituation; just like I might overcome the disgust I feel about exotic foods by trying them, I can overcome the disgust I feel about same-sex marriage by spending more time with gay couples. Moreover, work in psychology appears to support this picture. Medical school students, for instance, lose their disgust about touching dead bodies after a few months of dissecting corpses, and new mothers quickly become less disgusted by the smell of soiled diapers.

But these findings may be deceptive. For starters, when we look more closely at the results of the diaper experiment, we see that a mother’s reduced disgust sensitivity is most pronounced with regard to her own baby’s diapers, and additional research indicates that mothers have a general preference for the smell of their own children. This combination suggests, contra the disgust advocates, that a mother’s disgust is not being eliminated. Rather, her disgust at the soiled diapers is still there; it’s just being masked by the positive feelings that she’s getting from the smell of her newborn. Similarly, when we look carefully at the cadaver study, we see that while the disgust of medical students toward touching the cold bodies of the dissection lab is reduced with exposure, the disgust they feel toward touching the warm bodies of the recently deceased remained unchanged.