Daniel R. Kelly, Purdue University, USA

Friday, 4 October at 11:00 in the CNR seminar room, EMBL Monterotondo

Daniel R. Kelly, Purdue University, USA

Moral Disgust and the Yuck Factor: A Case Study in Selective Debunking


This talk has two aims. First, I defend a specific instance of what I will call a selective debunking argument. I show how the recent debates about the role disgust deserves in ethical thought have been impoverished by an inadequate understanding of the emotion itself. After considering Kass and Nussbaum’s respective positions in that debate, and the implausible views of the nature of disgust on which their arguments rest, I describe my own view, which makes sense of the wealth of recent, often puzzling, empirical work done on the emotion. I argue that this view provides new and more plausible foundations for skepticism about the idea that disgust deserves some kind of special epistemic credit or moral authority. Second, I use this discussion to explore features of selective debunking arguments in general. After identifying other instances that have been offered (both within and outside of ethics), and unpacking the assumptions on which such arguments often rest, I consider what selective debunking arguments suggest about how we might approach questions like: how far can the empirical debunking of human morality go? If there are constraints, what might they be, and where might they come from?


Daniel Kelly is an associate professor in the philosophy department at Purdue University. He received a masters degree from Tufts University, and his PhD from Rutgers University. His research interests are at the intersection of the philosophy of mind, cognitive science and moral theory. He is the author of Yuck! The Nature and Moral Significance of Disgust, and has published papers on moral judgment, social norms, racial cognition, and cross-cultural diversity.