From Disgust to Humanity

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law
From Disgust to Humanity.jpg
AuthorMartha Nussbaum
CountryUnited States
SubjectLGBT rights in the United States
PublisherOxford University Press
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardcover and Paperback)

From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law is a 2010 book about LGBT rights in the United States by the philosopher Martha Nussbaum.


Nussbaum analyzes the role that disgust plays in law and public debate in the United States.[1] She primarily analyzes constitutional legal issues facing gay and lesbian Americans but also analyzes issues such as anti-miscegenation statutes, segregation, antisemitism and the caste system in India as part of her broader thesis regarding the "politics of disgust".

She posits that the fundamental motivations of those advocating legal restrictions against gay and lesbian Americans is a "politics of disgust". These legal restrictions include blocking sexual orientation being protected under anti-discrimination laws, sodomy laws against consenting adults, constitutional bans against same-sex marriage, over-strict regulation of gay bathhouses, and bans on sex in public parks and public restrooms.[2] Nussbaum also argues that legal bans on polygamy and certain forms of incestuous (e.g. brother-sister) marriage partake of the politics of disgust and should be overturned.[3]

Nussbaum identifies the "politics of disgust" closely with Lord Devlin and his famous opposition to the Wolfenden report that recommended decriminalizing private consensual homosexual acts on the basis that those things would "disgust the average man." To Devlin, the mere fact some people or act may produce popular emotional reactions of disgust provides an appropriate guide for legislating. She also identifies the 'wisdom of repugnance' as advocated by Leon Kass as another "politics of disgust" school of thought as it claims that disgust "in crucial cases...repugnance is the emotional expression of deep wisdom, beyond reason's power fully to articulate it."

Nussbaum goes on to explicitly oppose the concept of a disgust-based morality as an appropriate guide for legislating. Nussbaum notes that popular disgust has been used throughout history as a justification for persecution. Drawing upon her earlier work on the relationship between disgust and shame, Nussbaum notes that at various times, racism, antisemitism, and sexism, have all been driven by popular revulsion.[4]

In place of this "politics of disgust," Nussbaum argues for the harm principle from John Stuart Mill as the proper basis for limiting individual liberties. Nussbaum argues the harm principle, which supports the legal ideas of consent, the age of majority, and privacy, protects citizens while the "politics of disgust" is merely an unreliable emotional reaction with no inherent wisdom. Furthermore, Nussbaum argues this "politics of disgust" has denied and continues to deny citizens humanity and equality before the law on no rational grounds and causes palpable social harms to the groups affected.


From Disgust to Humanity earned acclaim in the United States,[5][6][7][8] and prompted interviews in The New York Times and other magazines.[9][10] One conservative magazine, The American Spectator, offered a dissenting view, writing, "[H]er account of the 'politics of disgust' lacks coherence, and 'the politics of humanity' betrays itself by not treating more sympathetically those opposed to the gay rights movement." The article also argues that book is marred by factual errors and inconsistencies.[11]


  1. ^ Nussbaum, Martha. Oxford University Press. "From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law" (2010)
  2. ^ For the last two, see Martha Nussbaum, From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law. Oxford University Press, 2010, 198-199.
  3. ^ Nussbaum, From Disgust to Humanity, 154-155.
  4. ^ Nussbaum, Martha C. (August 6, 2004). "Danger to Human Dignity: The Revival of Disgust and Shame in the Law". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Washington, DC. Retrieved 2007-11-24.
  5. ^ San Francisco Book Review Archived 2011-07-16 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ "Why Has Divided America Taken Gay Rights Seriously?: A Philosopher Credits the Power of the Imagination"
  7. ^ "Let's Be Rational about Sex"
  8. ^ San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
  9. ^ "Gross National Politics"
  10. ^ Back Talk: Martha Nussbaum
  11. ^ "The Politics of Humanity" Archived 2010-12-04 at the Wayback Machine