Indignation is often understood to be the translation of an essentially just moral evaluation. However, it is necessary to investigate the ambiguities of this moral emotion. In the first part, an examination of the genealogy of indignation sheds light on the differences and similarities between ancient and modern conceptions of indignation. Modern indignation presupposes a universalist notion of dignity and thus sets itself not only against injustice, as is the case of ancient nemesis, but also indignity. The paper then discusses the sources of modern indignation, in particular pity and disgust. It appears that compassionate indignation operates a distancing between the “spectator” and the victim, while disgusted indignation involves a more reflexive process by which the distinction between in-groups and out-groups is reinforced. The findings of cognitive neurology and social psychology are then analyzed in order to show to what extent moral indignation and primary disgust are in fact homologous. Finally, the political effects, both positive and negative, of indignation are studied.
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