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View Yuck factor

The term “yuck factor” is bioethics shorthand that describes the belief that an intuitive (or deep-seated) negative response to some thing, idea or practice should be interpreted as evidence for the intrinsically harmful or evil character of that thing, and that just because something freaks people out it is therefore unethical.

James Hughes gives the example that if someone who was guided by the yuck factor didn’t like chocolate cake, they would probably say there is something unethical about chocolate cake.

Leon Kass, chairman (2001-2005) of the President’s Council on Bioethics is the principal proponent of the theory that people should be guided by their gut instincts in ethics. Unlike Leon Kass, most other bioethicists do not like to abandon appeals to reason, so they have produced variants on the yuck factor that stipulate that something is"unnatural” or that it violates"human dignity.”

Bioconservatives prefer the term"wisdom of repugnance,” as coined in 1997 by Leon Kass in an article in The New Republic and also incorporated into his 2002 book Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity. Kass stated that disgust was not an argument per se, but went on to say that “in crucial cases…repugnance is the emotional expression of deep wisdom, beyond reason’s power fully to articulate it.”“Wisdom of repugnance” is used almost exclusively by those who accept its underlying premise; i.e., that repugnance does, in fact, indicate wisdom. It is thus viewed as loaded language, and is primarily used by certain bioconservatives to justify their position.

The yuck factor is often used to justify knee-jerk negative reactions to cloning (particularly of humans), genetic engineering, and other contentious subjects. One who adheres to it may consider it unnecessary (“in crucial cases”) to examine an issue logically, or to debate dissenting arguments. The term has migrated to other controversies, such as same-sex marriage, abortion, pornography, alternative sexualities, coprophagia, and cannibalism.

The yuck factor has been widely criticized, both as an example of a fallacious appeal to emotion and for an underlying premise which seems to reject rationalism. Although mainstream science concedes that a sense of disgust most likely evolved as a useful defense mechanism, social psychologists question whether the instinct can serve any moral or logical value when removed from the context in which it was originally acquired.

Some critics such as Martha Nussbaum explicitly oppose the concept of a disgust-based morality. Nussbaum notes that disgust has been used throughout history as a justification for persecution. For example, at various times racism, antisemitism, sexism, and homophobia have all been driven by popular revulsion.

The yuck factor is also closely related to future shock, where people are uncomfortable with the rapidly evolving pace of society and technology.

A Conversation with Dr. James Hughes
Changesurfer Radio Interview with Martha Nussbaum
The Symphony of Personal Creation
Wikipedia on Wisdom of Repugnance