Disgust is often used as a tool of persuasion. But are gut feelings ever a reliable guide in questions of right and wrong?

Carol Hay in Aeon:

Falun-52258036Every spring a pro-life group – one whose campaigning methods are so shockingly offensive that I won’t publish their name here – sets up shop on my university’s campus quad. The group’s shtick involves displaying billboard-sized images of aborted foetuses juxtaposed with gory photos of atrocities such as mass graves and lynchings.

The group has been haunting me for years; when I was in grad school, their designated free-speech zone happened to be right outside my cubicle window. Most years, I took advantage of my location to plaster the window with pro-choice signs of my own. A few years ago, they visited the campus where I’m now an assistant professor, setting up their grisly billboards in a 20-foot circle right in the middle of campus. Several of my students, tickled at the prospect of witnessing their visibly pregnant, feminist ethics professor debate the morality of abortion, managed to convince me to try to talk to the protesters. It went about as well as you might expect.

What went considerably better was the response from the rest of the student body. After the initial shock wore off and they came to understand that, as a public university, we were obliged to respect the protesters’ rights to free speech, the students mounted a spirited counter-protest.

More here.