November’s Cafe will invite the audience to consider what repulses us, and how our negative emotions connect to how we make judgements about right and wrong.

Does disgust have a role in shaping morality?

"Disgust": Detail from Plate V, Nr. ...
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In evolutionary terms, it may have evolved as a means of helping us avoid sources of infection and disease, like rotting food. However, some philosophers have argued that disgust can serve as a reliable guide to spotting morally problematic phenomena (such as human cloning), and that it therefore embodies a kind of moral wisdom. Others point out that disgust can create prejudice and hatred. Can we rely on disgust to guide us in living a moral life? Or would we do better to try to ignore its promptings?

Starting at 7.30 pm in the Cafe Bar at the Gate Arts Centre.

Presenter will be Dr Chris Groves (BRASS, Cardiff University).

Below the fold, you’ll find a quickie bad-taste poll designed to highlight how disgust operates. Click on the images to enlarge them.


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6 thoughts on “Ethics and Disgust”

  1. Can we imagine a morality without disgust, joy, remorse, or any other driver? By appealing to a general form of morality we are tempted to sever particular cases from their drivers and end up with mince. In this case, morality is reduced to a physical description of events with extra-moral reasons for picking them out.
    But a physical event only becomes a moral event because it is picked out as such by its drivers.

    “Evolutionary reasons” always crop up. But I wonder why it is that only in evolutionary theory do we suppose that mind or experience can control matter.

  2. Eating a pet , yours or anyone elses is out of the question I am not happy that i eat battery reared chickens. I wouldn’t eat meat at all when I was younger. My ideals have slipped. Then, i would feel disgust just standing in a butcher’s shop, at the sights and smell. Now, I stand in the queue consider ind the price per pound, my health and the physical well-being of the family
    Some ideals are like that: I have become inured to things that used to disgust and concern..

  3. Never eat meat (for moral and health reasons) or chocolate (for health). It costs the Earth to raise meat for consumption. We would help the environment if we ate the vegetable food we have to feed sheep, cattle, pigs, etc. Also, there’d be less methane in the air from fewer cattle. It’s time we all did more to save the planet.
    On the disgust topic: how about obscene bonuses for bankers and other CEOs?

  4. ‘Me gusta’ this topic.

    Disgust can be a primal reaction to things which may well be a result of evolutionary adaptation to avoid certain types of food or other material – maggots, rotting flesh etc. Disgust also is expressed over the behaviour of others (look up the Sun article on the ‘Most disgusting woman in Britain’ for a fine example of this type of moral outrage.

    However, because disgust is always a reaction rather than a response to something it can sometimes be an unthinking, immature way to deal with experiences that run counter to our cultural norms. If you had a Korean friend for example, you might think twice before bringing up the topic of eating dog meat in tones of disgust because for them it is perfectly acceptable action. You know you might cause offense with such views. Much as you might not want to contemplate eating Fido yourself, for others it might be no worse than snacking on whatever it is that goes into a pork pie. Come to think of it – what is in a pork pie? Perhaps we’re better off not knowing.

  5. Jonathan:

    Interesting case, Wendy Lewis – I would say the strength of feeling definitely has to do with the cultural boundaries that were crossed there, and particularly how they relate to who “we” (the “we” who came up with that description of her) think we are. What’s more, she apparently used to use heroin, and on leaving court after her appearance, her boyfriend gave a Nazi salute to the waiting press.

    Bearing in mind some of the psychological/cultural theories of disgust we looked at in the Cafe session, this story looks like a game of “disgust bingo”…

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