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The Meaning of Disgust$
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Colin McGinn

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199829538

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199829538.001.0001

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The Function of Disgust

The Function of Disgust

(p.123) 6 The Function of Disgust
The Meaning of Disgust

Colin McGinn

Oxford University Press

It is by no means clear what the biological function of disgust might be. The Darwinian taste-toxicity theory runs into obvious trouble: disgust cannot be viewed simply as a protection against the ingestion of unhealthy substances. This is connected to the obscure origin of disgust in the human species: how can we speculate about the origin of disgust if we don't know what its purpose is? Only if we know its function can be know why it arises. What kind of adaptation is it? Is it perhaps a by-product of some other direct adaptation? Nor should we expect that its function, assuming it has one, is anything simple—as fear has the simple function of motivating the animal to avoid danger. Disgust might play a more complex role in the overall human psychological and biological economy. This chapter proposes to make some exploratory remarks about this very difficult question.

Keywords:   disgust, biological function, Darwinian taste-toxicity theory, adaptation

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