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Christina070's avatar

What is the "shudder test" in Steven Pinker's "The Moral Instinct"?

Asked by Christina070 (106 points ) September 11th, 2012

This is the paragraph that I do not understand:

“There are, of course, good reasons to regulate human cloning, but the shudder test is not one of them. People have shuddered at all kinds of morally irrelevant violations of purity in their culture: touching an untouchable, drinking from the same water fountain as a Negro, allowing Jewish blood to mix with Aryan blood, tolerating sodomy between consenting men”.

Then, what is the shudder test?? What do they mean by “people have shuddered”?

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4 Answers

janbb's avatar

It means the fact that the action makes some people uncomfortable, e.g. shuddering, is not a reason to stop it from going forward.

gailcalled's avatar

Shuddering is an act of physical revulsion that may or may not be based on reason or logic.

I shudder when a mice runs up my arm; I no longer drink at public water fountains because of general hygiene issues (rational or not).

wundayatta's avatar

Another way of putting it is calling it the “yuck” factor. There are things that people instinctually shudder at, or make the yuck face at.

Not having read the book, I don’t know if Pinker says that the “yuck” factor is a good reason to make moral decisions in some cases, but it is also not a good reason in other cases, such as the list he gave.

Unfortunately, we often trust our instinctual responses—the times we shudder and make the yuck face—when there is no scientific reason to do so. Shuddering at a bitter taste might save us from being poisoned. Shuddering at what two men do in the privacy of their bedroom is no excuse for banning a behavior that does not affect us at all, except as an idea.

LostInParadise's avatar

For anyone interested, Pinker’s article, which appeared in the N Y Times magazine, can be found online I have not had a chance to read it, but it seems rather interesting.

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