Department of Philosophy



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Victor Kumar (University of Toronto)

will be presenting on

"Reasons for Repugnance"

THURSDAY, November 24th, 2016

WATSON HALL, ROOM 517 @ 4:00 p.m.

Moral wrongdoing regularly merits feelings of resentment, indignation, and outrage. But do we ever have reasons to feel disgusted by moral wrongs? Prominent work on this topic suggests that we do not. Martha Nussbaum argues that disgust is directed towards members of vulnerable and marginalized groups and that it fosters discrimination and mistreatment. Dan Kelly argues that disgust is an unreliable guide to moral evaluation. However, these criticisms do not stand up to scrutiny. The shortcomings of disgust are no more severe than the shortcomings of other emotions implicated in moral thought. To evaluate the merits of moral disgust, it helps to understand the functional role it has acquired in morality. I will argue that we have two different kinds of reasons to feel moral disgust. First, moral disgust is attuned to a sub-class of moral wrongs that includes acts of cheating, dishonesty, and exploitation. Second, due to its original biological function in disease avoidance, disgust motivates an important form of punishment—exclusion and ostracism of those who threaten social pollution. Ultimately, I will suggest that understanding the psychological and social functions of disgust lends support to an indirect-consequentialist theory of the fittingness conditions of moral disgust.


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