The Yuck Factor

The argument that gives this section its title goes something as follows: Sometimes one has a gut reaction to something regarded as abhorrent. One is offended by the very thought of it and cannot always give reasons for this reaction. Yet instinctively one knows that what is abhorred is wrong. Many people seem to react to human cloning in this way. Such emotional reactions can be described as an expression of a kind of knowledge, as a kind of moral intuition. They could even be viewed as expressions of a kind of deep wisdom. The very idea of someone making a copy of themselves or many copies of a famous star is simply bizarre, revolting, and repulsive, and these emotional reactions tell us that there is something very wrong with it, even if there is no full explanation for what that is.

Any adequate response to this argument would entail an analysis of how ethical reasoning works when it works well. Emotional reactions or moral intuitions may indeed play a role in moral reasoning. However, most philosophers would agree that adequate moral reasoning should not rely on intuition or emotion alone. Reflections about why one might rightly have such gut reactions are in order. People have been known to have negative gut reactions to things that in fact were not wrong—interracial marriage, for example. It is incumbent on those who assert that something is wrong, most philosophers believe, that they provide rational argument and well-supported reasons to justify these beliefs and emotional reactions.

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