This is a syncretistic work, blending the philosophical, the psychological, the biological, and the literary. You might call it “impure philosophy”—and the subject matter warrants the adjective. It is about the things we find repulsive: their essence and significance. I intend the book for a variety of readers, not just the narrowly philosophical—for the subject of disgust has wide relevance. I see the ideas presented as occupying the same territory as existentialism and psychoanalysis, and competing with them (though incorporating some of their insights): what might be called “hermeneutic psychology.” It aims to uncover disagreeable truths about what we are, as self-conscious emotional beings with organic bodies. But it tries to do so agreeably (Freud and Sartre were both great writers). The book can be construed as an essay in species self-criticism, and self-pity. It is a sort of lamentation.
I suppose I had been interested in the topic for a long time, in an unsystematic way—possibly since first reading Freud, some forty-odd years ago. But the immediate trigger for working seriously on it came a few years back, when I was scheduled to (p.viii) teach a philosophy of mind seminar with Mark Rowlands in Miami. I found it difficult to face covering the same old material yet again, so I determined that we should include some sessions on emotion. This led me to think about the emotion of disgust, which struck me as interestingly puzzling. I read some texts, notably Aurel Kolnai's On Disgust and William Ian Miller's The Anatomy of Disgust: these got the juices flowing (so to speak) on the subject, since both are courageous and stimulating. I soon started having my own ideas, delving more deeply into the literature, and producing bits of writing. The result is the book now before you. It has been enjoyable to write, because of the literary challenges and opportunities, but also somewhat disconcerting. I have been compelled to concentrate for long periods on the disgusting, trying to get to the bottom of it—and this is not the usual human attitude (for reasons I discuss in the text). I am not sure it is good for a person to immerse himself so deeply in these filthy waters. The truth is not always welcome. You have been warned.
I would like to thank Mark Rowlands, Jane Casillo, Ronald de Sousa, and Carolyn Korsmeyer for very helpful comments.