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Disgust and Morality

Free «Disgust and Morality» Essay Sample

Daniel Kelly in his works draws attention to disgust and the moral aspect of it. He explains the phenomenon of disgust from the point of view of psychology. According to Kelly, disgust is a protective mechanism of the human organism against poisoning and parasites. As Kelly states, only human beings have disgust because they are the only species in the world who possess intelligence and know about death, and that knowledge is the main means for further evolution of the emotion of disgust. Kelly states that disgust is connected with life experience, because human memory can keep some unpleasant moments in life and the reasons which caused them. In addition, Kelly describes a brain region which is responsible for disgust and all the reactions of the human body on disgust. Kelly recognizes that every nation, social or religious group has its own customs, traditions and fundamental principles of morality, according to its native and religious traditions. He rejects any moral aspect of disgust and supports a skeptical point of view on the problem, claiming that, under disgust, all totalitarian and racist regimes developed in the world. Therefore, it is necessary to analyze the points of view of advocates and skeptics of the morality of disgust. Of course, the emotional aspect of disgust takes a special part in judgment of morality of the certain event, but human actions should be executed according to the assessment of the moral aspect of the certain event, and disgust should not be rejected while making the decision.


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As Kelly states, disgust is a kind of reaction on a certain event caused by life experience of a person. Disgust has been formed during the whole development of the human civilization, and it continued its development with the help of religious, national, and social points of view on some events in life, when a state emerged as a higher degree of organization of the human community. Moreover, various nations treat the same events differently, and frequently, the same event may be considered a taboo in one nation while the other nation may consider it as standard. For instance, some people eat pork, while it is a taboo in all Muslim countries. In this case, this taboo was caused by religion, and disgust for pork in Muslim countries was caused not by a protective reaction of a human organism on “poisoning” by that kind of meat. At the same time, disgust for dog’s meat among Europeans is caused by not only religion but also by historical development of the European civilization, when killing and eating dogs were considered immoral. Of course, it is immoral to hate people for types of dishes they are eating.

In order to clarify the meaning of the moral disgust, one should take a historical event as an example – for instance, the bloodshed Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 in India, which was caused by the disgust of Indian soldiers for lard and tallow for greasing cartridges. Soldiers had to bite a cartridge end off to charge the rifles, and this was against the religious beliefs of both Muslims and Hindus. The moral aspect of the problem was in the neglect of the religious beliefs from the side of the British authorities. According to Kelly, Muslims and Hindus did not have any moral aspect in the disgust of the cartridges. As a matter of fact, disgust is an emotion which was developed in the human beings in the course of time to protect them from poisoning and parasites. On the other hand, religion as the major institution dictating moral standards in the life of its believers condemned certain events in life and labeled them as sinful. Therefore, people who committed certain actions were considered as evil doers and could be punished even to death, but not respecting the religious beliefs of Muslims and Hindus from the side of the British authorities caused the bloodshed.

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Kelly uses the so-called E and C view combining both the Entanglement and Co-opt theses to prove the rightness of the skeptic approach to the problem of disgust and morality. Kelly considers disgust as an impact on the moral judgments of persons emphasizing the emotional nature of disgust. Of course, emotions should be controlled by intelligence, and according to it, Muslims and Hindus were led by their emotions in 1957, because nothing posed a danger to their life in using new cartridges; on the other hand, they violated their native and religious traditions when obeying the British authorities. Hence, the armed conflict emerged on the ground of not only emotions but contradictions between the lifestyles and customs of Europeans, on the one side, and Muslim and Hindus, on the other.

As Kelly states, there is a group of scholars who assert that emotions do play a major role in the assessment of various problems and events in life. They claim that emotions reflect moral attitude to certain events and that nobody can reject their impact on the further development of the human civilization since disgust for immoral facts can prevent many dangerous events and conflicts. Kelly calls this the Deep Wisdom theory of disgust advocates. Moreover, he criticizes them for considering emotion of disgust as a major means of making a moral assessment of some events. Thus, Leon Kaas considers repugnance as a major instrument for defending the human civilization. As a matter of fact, the advocates for the emotions of disgust are based on thinking of possible evils which can be caused as a result of immoral activities of human beings. Thus, disgust advocates opposed human cloning, abortion, pornography, homosexuality and other issues of modern life that can be called as immoral. Of course, from the point of view of the Christian Church, the disgust advocates are right, because they uphold the idea of morality in the human society. Kelly claims that their ideas contradict the main postulate of psychology that emotions should be oppressed by intelligence.

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