Philosophical Studies

, Volume 172, Issue 12, pp 3167–3190 | Cite as

Self-ownership and disgust: why compulsory body part redistribution gets under our skin

  • Christopher Freiman
  • Adam Lerner


The self-ownership thesis asserts, roughly, that agents own their minds and bodies in the same way that they can own extra-personal property. One common strategy for defending the self-ownership thesis is to show that it accords with our intuitions about the wrongness of various acts involving the expropriation of body parts (e.g., Robert Nozick’s case of compulsory eyeball redistribution and Judith Jarvis Thomson’s Violinist). We challenge this line of defense. We argue that disgust explains our resistance to these sorts of cases and present results from an original psychological experiment in support of this hypothesis. We argue further that learning that disgust is responsible for pro-self-ownership intuitions should reduce our confidence in those intuitions. After considering and rejecting some prominent “debunking” arguments predicated on disgust’s evolutionary history, we provide alternative reasons for thinking that disgust is not a reliable source of moral judgments. Rejecting the reliability of disgust as a mechanism for producing moral beliefs coheres with our considered judgments about (1) the general kinds of considerations that are morally relevant and (2) a range of particular moral problems.


Self-ownership Consequentialism Moral psychology Disgust 



For their helpful comments and suggestions on drafts of this paper, we owe thanks to Andrew R. A. Conway, Joshua Gert, Bill Glod, Chris Tucker, and an anonymous referee for this journal.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyCollege of William & MaryWilliamsburgUSA
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyPrinceton UniversityPrincetonUSA

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