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What in the World Is Moral Disgust?

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I argue that much philosophical discussion of moral disgust suffers from two ambiguities: first, it is not clear whether arguments for the moral authority of disgust apply to disgust as a consequence of moral evaluations or instead to disgust as a moralizing emotion; second, it is not clear whether the word ‘moral’ is used in a normative or in a descriptive sense. This lack of clarity generates confusion between ‘fittingness’ and ‘appropriateness’ of disgust. I formulate three conditions that arguments for the moral authority of disgust need—but typically fail—to satisfy, in order to avoid (1) circularity, (2) the naturalistic fallacy, and (3) redundancy. These conditions are, respectively, (1) the identification of the direction of the causal relation between disgust and moral evaluation, (2) a demonstration that disgust is ‘fitting’ to morally relevant properties, and (3) a demonstration that disgust is ‘appropriate’ when elicited by these morally relevant properties. I will also suggest that, regardless of whether an argument for the moral authority of disgust can be made, it would be better to avoid the rather obscure term ‘moral disgust’.
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Keywords: disgust; moral disgust; moral psychology

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Charles Sturt University,

Publication date: 02 April 2016

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