Disgust as Heuristic

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 19 (3):679-693 (2016)
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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.

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Bob Fischer
Texas State University


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