Judging Our Judging

“Don’t judge me.” If this isn’t one of the most common phrases of the last decade, I don’t know what is! As serious as some may be, there is one thing that every person always does–judge.

Judgment occurs every time a choice is made or when we estimate the value of a given object or desire. As judgers, we see there is a difference between goodness and truth. The terms “good” and “bad” are the terms we use more on a day to day basis when talking about things. Wisdom places truth and goodness in different categories when speaking or thinking in the different relationships they deal with. When talking about truth, we are talking about an object–the object of truth. The question we can ask is, “Can we have truth in our value judgments?” When it comes to personal opinion, most do not have a problem with believing a person to be telling the truth about their personal opinion. But it doesn’t stop there. Not everything is personal opinion. Is there subjectivity and objectivity to value judgments? Can we correctly judge?

Some can say that certain objects are good for everyone and not just for a few. In this, there is objectivity in that value judgment. In this argument, skeptics deny this fact. Breaking it down, is what is good, desirable or is what is desirable, good? Is the essence of goodness wrapped up in the object itself or in the person’s desire? This then goes to follow that if something is truly good in and of itself, then one ought to desire it, for it is in essence good. But, there can be something that one man may call good and another man may call bad. Mortimer J. Adler in his book Six Great Ideas says, “while some objects appear good to an individual simply because he or she in fact desires them, there are other objects that he or she ought to desire because they are good” (pg. 69).

Where opinion stops and truth begins is the question of the day. I can have the opinion that chocolate is good for me and therefore desire chocolate as my main source of sustenance. But we know that fruits and vegetables are in essence healthy and I ought to desire them in order to maintain health. This is quite simplified but the point is made. What someone desires and what someone ought to desire is where we need to go.

Key Definitions:

Prescriptive statements are those that one would say ought or ought not to be done.
Descriptive statements declare what simply is the case.

We can know the facts and surrounding circumstances in descriptive statements, but still have a problem. When, if at all, is it proper and good to declare that something ought to be done? Oughtness is not amoral. If someone ought to do something, then to not do it would be immoral and therefore wrong. Long ago, David Hume asserted that one cannot deduce the goodness of something from a descriptive statement. In other words, we cannot determine what should be done based on what is done. Anything can be true for anyone and no one ought to do an