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Hardcover | Out of Print | 208 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 5 figures | June 2011 | ISBN: 9780262015585
Paperback | $19.95 Trade | £14.95 | 208 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 5 figures | January 2013 | ISBN: 9780262518550
eBook | $13.95 Trade | June 2011 | ISBN: 9780262296137
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The Nature and Moral Significance of Disgust


People can be disgusted by the concrete and by the abstract—by an object they find physically repellent or by an ideology or value system they find morally abhorrent. Different things will disgust different people, depending on individual sensibilities or cultural backgrounds. In Yuck!, Daniel Kelly investigates the character and evolution of disgust, with an emphasis on understanding the role this emotion has come to play in our social and moral lives.

Disgust has recently been riding a swell of scholarly attention, especially from those in the cognitive sciences and those in the humanities in the midst of the "affective turn." Kelly proposes a cognitive model that can accommodate what we now know about disgust. He offers a new account of the evolution of disgust that builds on the model and argues that expressions of disgust are part of a sophisticated but largely automatic signaling system that humans use to transmit information about what to avoid in the local environment. He shows that many of the puzzling features of moral repugnance tinged with disgust are by-products of the imperfect fit between a cognitive system that evolved to protect against poisons and parasites and the social and moral issues on which it has been brought to bear. Kelly's account of this emotion provides a powerful argument against invoking disgust in the service of moral justification.

About the Author

Daniel Kelly is Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Purdue University.

Table of Contents

  • Yuck!
  • Life and Mind: Philosophical Issues in Biology and Psychology
  • Kim Sterelny and Robert A. Wilson, editors
  • Cycles of Contingency: Developmental Systems and Evolution
  • ,
  • Susan Oyama, Paul E. Griffiths, and Russell D. Gray, editors, 2000
  • Coherence in Thought and Action
  • ,
  • Paul Thagard, 2000
  • The New Phrenology: The Limits of Localizing Cognitive Processes in the Brain
  • ,
  • William R. Uttal, 2001
  • Evolution and Learning: The Baldwin Effect Reconsidered
  • ,
  • Bruce H. Weber and David J. Depew, editors, 2003
  • Seeing and Visualizing: It’s Not What You Think
  • ,
  • Zenon W. Pylyshyn, 2003
  • Organisms and Artifacts: Design in Nature and Elsewhere
  • ,
  • Tim Lewens, 2004
  • The Mind Incarnate
  • ,
  • Lawrence A. Shapiro, 2004
  • Molecular Models of Life: Philosophical Papers on Molecular Biology
  • ,
  • Sahotra Sarkar, 2004
  • Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life
  • ,
  • Eva Jablonka and Marion J. Lamb, 2005
  • The Evolution of Morality
  • ,
  • Richard Joyce, 2006
  • Evolutionary Psychology as Maladapted Psychology
  • ,
  • Robert C. Richardson, 2007
  • Describing Inner Experience? Proponent Meets Skeptic
  • ,
  • Russell T. Hurlburt and Eric Schwitzgebel, 2007
  • The Native Mind and the Cultural Construction of Nature
  • ,
  • Scott Atran and Douglas Medin, 2008
  • Color Ontology and Color Science
  • ,
  • Jonathan Cohen and Mohan Matthen, editors, 2010
  • The Extended Mind
  • ,
  • Richard Menary, editor, 2010
  • Yuck! The Nature and Moral Significance of Disgust
  • ,
  • Daniel Kelly, 2011
  • Yuck!
  • The Nature and Moral Significance of Disgust
  • Daniel Kelly
  • A Bradford Book
  • The MIT Press
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • London, England
  • ©
  • 2011
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher.
  • For information about special quantity discounts, please email
  • This book was set in Stone Sans and Stone Serif by the MIT Press. Printed and bound in the United States of America.
  • Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
  • Kelly, Daniel R. (Daniel Ryan)
  • Yuck! : the nature and moral significance of disgust / Daniel Kelly.
  • p. cm.—(Life and mind: philosophical issues in biology and psychology)
  • “A Bradford Book.”
  • Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • ISBN 978-0-262-01558-5 (hbk. : alk. paper)
  • 1. Aversion. 2. Emotions. I. Title.
  • BF575.A886K45 2011
  • 152.4—dc22
  • 2010053625
  • 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
  • To Mike, Lynn, and Erin
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • ix
  • Introduction
  • 1
  • 1 Toward a Functional Theory of Disgust
  • 11
  • 2 Poisons and Parasites:
  • The Entanglement Thesis and the Evolution of Disgust
  • 43
  • 3 Disgust’s Sentimental Signaling System:
  • Expression, Recognition, and the Transmission of Cultural Information
  • 61
  • 4 Disgust and Moral Psychology:
  • Tribal Instincts and the Co-opt Thesis
  • 101
  • 5 Disgust and Normative Ethics:
  • The Irrelevance of Repugnance and Dangers of Moralization
  • 137
  • Notes
  • 153
  • References
  • 165
  • Index
  • 189


“This entertaining and informative book is an excellent example of a relatively new genre: philosophy informed by and working in partnership with cognitive science, evolutionary psychology and neurophysiology.... I found it hard to put this book down, and recommend it as a shining example of genuine progress in moral philosophy, arising from bona fide increases in our understanding of who and what we are.”—Simon Blackburn, Times Higher Education
“Kelly has provided the best kind of gateway for anyone interested in learning about disgust and its pervasive role in our society.... By looking closely at the functional nature of disgust, the highly complex and subtle workings behind a given motivational and evaluative attitude have been revealed.”—Tom Cochrane, Queen's University Belfast, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
Yuck! is a short, clear, engaging book that is likely to make a lasting impact on philosophical thinking about the emotions. No philosopher making claims about the emotions can afford not to read it and learn its lessons.”—Timothy Schroeder, Ethics
Yuck! remains an impressive achievement and is well worth reading. Kelly's theory of disgust is intricate, novel, and compelling, and Kelly raises many fascinating questions about its implications.”—Philosophical Quarterly
“This book is highly recommended for those readers interested in the latest and most exciting aspects of current scholarship on the study of the emotions. Readers too who are interested on evolutionary psychology, moral psychology or neuroethics will find this book stimulating.”—Neuroethics
“Sophisticated, broadly interdisciplinary....the book as a whole provides a fine example of careful intellectual argument, a model, in fact, for students not only in philosophy.”—The European Legacy


“Entertaining and explanatory. Enough to disgust the prudes and thrill the salacious. I did not know how many foods I will never eat and practices I will never follow. This is a terrific read with a genuine underlying moral seriousness. Highly recommended!”
Michael Ruse, Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy and Director of the History and Philosophy of Science Program, Florida State University
“In the minds of those with an intellectual interest in psychology, disgust was once just another item listed in the standard catalog of emotions. Over the past decade or so disgust has oozed its way to the forefront and is now seen as one of the most fascinating and revealing aspects of human psychology. Synthesizing psychological, evolutionary, and philosophical perspectives, Kelly's book is by far the best focused study of the topic available.”
Richard Joyce, Professor of Philosophy, Victoria University of Wellington, and author of The Myth of Morality and The Evolution of Morality