July 17, 2004 9:55 AM   Subscribe

You stink, therefore I am. Philosophers and psychologists have been studying the science of disgust, and its proper place in the law. Leon Kass, the chairman of the president's council on bioethics, cites "the wisdom of repugnance" in arguing against cloning. More recently, Martha Nussbaum has written a new book, "Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law," which rejects disgust as a moral guide. She has also written on the role of disgust in the mutilations of women in Gujarat.
posted by homunculus (8 comments total)
Thanks. This will come in handy. Many women have saild to me, You disgust me...now I can understand what they mean and why they say it. They are right!
posted by Postroad at 11:06 AM on July 17, 2004

Huh. Maybe this explains why I spent 20 minutes watching people try to eat congealed blood balls.

Stupid Fear Factor.
posted by graventy at 12:34 PM on July 17, 2004

[This is good].
posted by gd779 at 2:09 PM on July 17, 2004

Obligatory Uncanny Valley link.
posted by ChasFile at 2:19 PM on July 17, 2004

How do humans smell?

posted by Outlawyr at 5:03 AM on July 18, 2004

The Nussbaum article on Gujrat is absolutely harrowing reading.
posted by rks404 at 3:04 PM on July 18, 2004

I was less impressed with Nussbaum's piece on Gujarat -- a harrowing subject, certainly, but I'm not sure that Andrea-Dworkin-with-a-dash-of-social-constructionism is the best way to explain it. There are many things I admire about Nussbaum, and her style of writing is wonderfully lucid and compelling; but when it comes to theory she is like a jackdaw with a piece of shiny foil.

On the whole I agree with Nussbaum's main thesis, that disgust is an unsafe basis for public policy. However, I think she makes things easy for herself by focusing on flagrant examples of racist and misogynist disgust. I would like to see what she has to say about more problematic examples -- e.g. disgust at child pornography, or at cruelty towards animals -- where many people would regard a sense of disgust as indispensable to a healthy society.

"No society can do without intolerance, indignation and disgust; they are the forces behind the moral law" -- Patrick Devlin, in The Enforcement of Morals (1965). I find this a profoundly challenging statement -- and without necessarily wanting to agree that disgust is healthy and socially beneficial, I think Devlin puts his finger on a very important point: that it isn't always easy to separate a reasoned stance of moral disapproval from an intuitive sense of moral outrage.

By contrast, Nussbaum's attempt to draw a strict line of demarcation between 'anger' (=good) and 'disgust' (=bad) strikes me as naive. Sometimes anger is fuelled by disgust; sometimes disgust is fuelled by anger; and perhaps we should just accept this as part of the messy way that moral judgements are made.
posted by verstegan at 3:12 AM on July 19, 2004

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