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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M062-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2021
Retrieved July 23, 2024, from

Article Summary

Article Summary

Disgust is an aversive emotion with a marked visceral character that prompts one to recoil from objects that are foul, decaying, infectious, or corrupted. In its strongest forms, disgust can lead to nausea and vomiting. It also has milder versions, such as queasiness and distaste. Although the specific target objects of disgust vary from culture to culture, the general categories that arouse this form of aversion are common. They include bodily products such as faeces and pus, rot, decay, and putrefaction, blood and mutilation; signs of recent death when an organic object has begun to decompose.

The sensory foundation of this emotion is strong. Decomposition of organic materials such as spoiled foods and rotting corpses releases foul-smelling gases, and so disgust is immediately triggered by noxious smells and tastes. Sight and touch can also prompt the emotion, as with a squirming nest of maggots or slime that sticks to fingers. Hearing has a somewhat more limited scope for disgust.

Because of its strong sensory sensitivity, many theorists surmise that so-called core or material disgust may have evolved as a protective mechanism to ward against eating rotten foods or poisons, or coming in contact with infections. Disgust has migrated to the moral realm too as an emphatic expression of disapprobation, especially when directed to an action that involves physical violation. Whether moral disgust is a true case of the emotion or rather a strong metaphor for negative moral judgement remains a point of dispute.

Although fundamentally a response of repulsion, in some circumstances, disgust also exerts an odd attraction. It can prompt curiosity and challenge, as with the urge to discover what happens to a body upon death, or the dare to eat something initially revolting. Perhaps the most common deliberate arousal of disgust occurs in art forms, especially horror movies. The attraction of things that disgust in art is a paradox that philosophers have long investigated.

Citing this article:
Korsmeyer, Carolyn. Disgust, 2021, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M062-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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