Danger to Human Dignity: the Revival of Disgust and Shame in the Law

“The law, most of us would agree, should be society’s protection against prejudice. That does not imply that emotions play no legitimate role in legal affairs, for often emotions help people to see a situation clearly, doing justice to the concerns that ought to be addressed. The compassion of judge and jurors during the penalty phase of a criminal trial, for example, has been held to be an essential part of criminal justice, a way of connecting to the life story of a defendant whose experience seems remote to those who sit in judgment. Emotions are not intrinsically opposed to reason, for they involve pictures of the world and evaluations. But there are some emotions whose role in the law has always been more controversial. Disgust and shame are two of those. And disgust and shame are enjoying a remarkable revival in our society, after years during which their role in the law was widely criticized.” Article by Martha C. Nussbaum here in the Chronicle of Higher Education.