This paper calls into question the idea that moral disgust is usefully regarded as a form of genuine disgust. This hypothesis is questionable even if, as some have argued, the spread of moral norms through a community makes use of signaling mechanisms that are central to core disgust. The signaling system is just one part of disgust, and may well be completely separable from it. Moreover, there is plausibly a significant difference between the cognitive scientist’s concept of an emotion and the everyday notion of that emotion. Finally, even if, as this paper contests, some form of disgust were directly elicited by the moral wrongness of certain kinds of behavior, research on the socio-moral elicitors of the disgust mechanism would still be unlikely to shed much direct light on the nature or content of morality.
Leon Kass‘The Wisdom of Repugnance: Why We Should Ban the Cloning of Humans’New Republic216 (1997) pp. 17–26; Michael Hauskeller ‘Moral Disgust’ Ethical Perspectives: Journal of the European Ethics Network 13:4 (2006) pp. 571–602.
Timothy Goldsmith‘What Birds See’Scientific American295 (2006) pp. 68–75 at p. 72. Compare H.A Chapman D.A. Kim J.M. Susskind and A.K. Anderson ‘In Bad Taste: Evidence for the Oral Origins of Moral Disgust’ Science 323 (2009) pp. 1222–1226 at p. 1222: ‘We found that all three states evoked activation of the levator labii muscle region of the face characteristic of an oral-nasal rejection response. These results suggest that immorality elicits the same disgust as disease vectors and bad tastes’. This is a conflation of (1) and (2).
Joshua GertNormative Bedrock: Response-Dependence Rationality and Reasons (New York: Oxford University Press2012) chapter 1 and Huw Price. Naturalism Without Mirrors (New York: Oxford University Press 2011) chapters 2 9 and 12 present the kind of general pragmatist semantic view I favor. Such a view need not deny that ‘water’ refers to H2O or that it does so in virtue of a story of the sort Saul Kripke tells in Naming and Necessity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1980). But it need not model all reference in the same way.
Simpson et al.‘Is Disgust a Homogeneous Emotion?’ p. 39also highlights some other observable differences: socio-moral disgust intensifies over time while “core” disgust weakens. Also general sensitivity to “core” elicitors does not predict sensitivity to socio-moral elicitors.