Monday, September 11, 2006

What’s Wrong With Judging Others? - Part I (by guest blogger Brad Cokelet)

Although I am not a Theist, I have always found Jesus’s sayings
thought-provoking. Consider his take on judging others:

“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment you judge,
you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured
back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye,
but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to
your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a
plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite!”

Jesus is clearly denouncing our tendency to judge others. But what
is his argument to that effect? And how should we understand the
warning about being judged ourselves?

One interpretation is as follows: if we judge another person against
some standard, S, and offer to correct them or help them improve when
they are judged to be lacking, then we will be judged against S too
(perhaps at the last judgment).

But even if it is true, does it give us reason to refrain from
judging others? I do not think so.

In some cases it clearly does not: I judge students in my logic class
- I measure their performance against a standard - and try to “remove
the specks” from their thinking, and I do this knowing that I still
make errors that are just like theirs. But, the possibility of
having my own thinking judged by the same standard is no reason to
refrain from my practice; in fact, I hope to make this possibility
actual by helping my students understand standards of sound
reasoning! I judge my students in part to help them develop their
own capacities to judge.

Analogous considerations seem to apply in the ethical realm. Ben
Franklin reports in his Biography that a Quaker friend told him he
(Franklin) was commonly thought proud, and that led Franklin to add
humility to the list of virtues he was trying to keep in mind and
develop. I do not see why the fact that the friend's own level of
pride (or humility) would be judged, would count against his judging
Franklin. And I do not think the appropriateness of his judging
Franklin depends on whether he was himself proud or even had many bad
traits. After all, people who are working to overcome serious
problems of their own are often better at noticing more subtle
shortcomings in others; having a plank in your own eye can make you
more attentive to speck in your brother’s eye, so why not tell him
about it and help him get it out of there?

Consequently, on this first reading (a second one will be considered
in the next post), I can’t agree with what Jesus says: I think we
should go ahead and judge each other and say to each other, ‘Let me
remove the speck from your eye’ even if ­ maybe especially if ­ we
have a plank in our own eye. By judging each other, we can hope to
become a bit more self-aware and clear-sighted.


Anonymous said...

Sometimes judging becomes social sport. People find fun and fulfillment in their judging of what someone had done. Without considering or wondering if they would do the same on their place, and even when knowing that they *would do*, or have done the same thing as the one who they judge if they were in same situation.

In those situations it is not about the judging the act right or wrong. The one who care about morality of an act, will not make much fuss of it. It is about bashing others from ones quasi superior moral position. Not really building own morality really, just having fun.

I think that's what that quote talks about.

kboughan said...

In your class, your students submit voluntarily to your judgment.

By enrolling in the class, they freely and formally conceded that you are in a position to judge them -- .e., that you don't have a plank in your eye.

And you're only judging their skill as novice logicians.

The kind of judgment the text is talking about is that of judging another soul to be sinful -- a far more serious charge (compare the consequences: a C-minus vs. hell). I would assume that one can be a poor dialectician and still be morally upright -- or at least that a bad grade in beginning logic cannot be taken as sufficient sign of reprobate status before God.

I have not read the Sermon on the Mount in a long time, but it strikes me also that the general thrust of that passage is along the lines of: We are all sinners, and all deserve the fire; the only true judge is God the Father himself. Hence any practical moral policing has to be done in the spirit of compassion, forgiveness and extreme restraint; even then it can aim at justice, not fulfill it. Where it concerns sin, no eye will ever be clear of specks.

James Gibson said...

Hi Brad. I think you hit upon an interpretation of what Jesus couldn't possibly mean, at least if we are being charitable. Similar to what you've offered, I've also thought that a person struggling with alcoholism, for instance, could tell another alcoholic that (s)he should attempt to be free of the problem. And yet this may not be hypocritical. If Jesus taught his disciples at least that they should seek and *preach* redemption from sin, but also taught that his disciples were sinful too, how could their preaching against sin not be hypocritical under the interpretation you've offered? I think kboughan hit on the right interpretation of the hypocrisy at work in the passage, namely that an attitude of harshness by S toward another who X's (wrongly) but S also X's will be judged with harshness. And the same for leniency or love in judgment. This much more is plausible if we think that some of Jesus' interlocutors (e.g., the Pharisees) were part of his audience and he is addressing their outward harshness of judgment against others and their own self-exaltation, all the while they themselves were supposedly sinful.

Brad C said...

Thanks tanasike, kboughan, and james,

I am glad you agree that if that is what Jesus meant, then he was wrong. I agree that gives us some reason to think that it was not judging of the sort I described that is being condemned. So what is he comdemning?

(1) tanasije and james focus on bad motives for judging others and bad attitudes towards others that are embodied in expressions of judgment (that is how I take talk of "harshness). For exmaple, we do it because we enjoy putting others down and are harshly express contempt for those who we judge bad. I agree that these might be the things that he is really after. Thanks for the suggestions!

(2) kboughan raises the issue of consent to judgment which suggests that the problematic forms of judgement are those which are not consented to. But I think the Ben Franklin example shows that the relevant "consent" need not explicit. And it seems that the "consent" present in that case is probably present in other cases where we judge "our brothers".

(3) Finally, kboughan raises the thought that on Jesus's view we are all sinners and deserve damnation. You are certainly right that this is, at least since Augustine's attack on Pelagius, the dominate Christian view (even Kant held it!) of humanity and what Jesus thought of us.

Still, I am not sure how it bears on the issue of judging others. Even if we are all sinners and deserve hell, how does it follow that "it is not for us to judge others"?

And why does our being sinners ourselves make our judgments fall short of "compete justice"? Does being a sinner entail being epistemically disadvantaged when it comes to judging others? How so?

Alternatively, you might appeal to 1 above at this point and only condemn "harsh" judgments.

Again, thanks for raising interesting issues.

Anonymous said...

I always thought that Husserl's notion of empathy in the Crisis... is somewhat analogous to Jesus' teachings in the Gospels. Metaphysically, right, we all mostly judge things to be the same because we correct every other person's judgment and vice versa. But the way in which we do this is by the empathetic turn, which is to place one's self in the place of another. S and S' result in S'' (to take from your post). But there's also a sense in which you couldn't not judge yourself and an other by the same standards, and this sense lies in the constitution of one's world-picture, in which one always is to some extent. But the rough-borderishness of this extent is probably why we tend to judge ourselves differently than we judge others: Because we ourselves are less well constituted than we constitute others.

--B. Michael Payne

Anonymous said...

As I see it there are two things going on in the passage where Jesus speaks. On the one hand he is repudiating moralizing judgmentalism. His statement is historical but one that is very much worth bearing in mind, but also very important for us to bear in mind today. One part of moralizing judgmentalism is the leveling of all moral matters to the same significance. Why are you worried about trivial violations of our communal code (speck in the eye of others) and not your inability to judge in accordance with the overall spirit or tendency of the code (plank in your eye)?

The other part of moralizing judgmentalism is to be always willing to pounce on any perceived violation and to denounce the alleged violator. Hence the warning: judge not lest ye be judged. Don't run around picking on everything people do, because how would you look if someone did the same to you?

Since no one, I suppose, or very few people could look very good in comparison with the standards typically used in moralizing judgmentalism, it would seem that moralizing judgmentalism involves a large amount of self-deception and hypocrisy.

So I think that the point of what Jesus is saying there is not that you should not judge others, but you should not do so in a certain way.


Anonymous said...

Oppss! I meant to say that there are two things involved mainly in moral judgmentalism and that hypocrisy is a likely outcome.


Anonymous said...

Why isn't Jesus simply trying to capture the common sense idea that moral judgments are universal and so if they apply to your neighbor then they apply to you? He is reliying on the fact that the ordinary person will realize that it is absurd to judge someone else when the rule they use to judge condemns them as well (this is the gist of the 'cast the first stone' stuff as well).

If Kant was right about anything, surely he was right that universalizability is a neccessay condition for an act being moral. He was also quick to point out that this idea was enshrined in common sense and the Categorical Imperative is what you get when you formalize that common sense. If this is right then we shouldn't be suprised to find evidence of famous and influential thinkers making use of some form of universalization in moral arguments.

Anonymous said...

How do you handle a member of the church always making slanderous comments about other church members and the children in the church family. She seems to always fault others and maybe she should be spend more time looking to improve her faults and pray for others instead of
judging them. She is suppose to set an example and at times is just cruel. Clearly there is NOT one family in our church with perfect children. " Let he that is sin free cast the first stone."
How should I handle this woman of our church without hurting her feelings or causing her to talk badly about me and my family?