The art of judging

Posted Jan 9, 2003
Last Updated Oct 30, 2011

When you were growing up you undoubtedly heard your parents admonishing you not to judge others—and you heard them say that you shouldn’t be so eager to cast the first stone at someone whom you’ve judged to have erred in action.

The philosophy behind the admonition on judging others is based upon prudence and compassion. We all make mistakes—so we should all be compassionate and withhold ourselves from lashing out at every perceived infraction. There is some prudence to the habit of withholding judgment.

But there is also a danger for abusing the philosophy of withholding judgement.

In modern society the concept of not judging your neighbor has been taken to such an extreme that moral philosophy is in danger of becoming insignificant. The idea of right and wrong (or valuable and worthless) has been turned into taste-test study of the best way to market ideas for personal gain. If there is no value-system… then anything can become marketable with the right propaganda. We are not talking here of economics, necessarily, but about every arena of human thought and society.


Judging is a natural process. Even animals judge their environment. When a pigeon lands on the ground at a pile of corn, he immediately looks around to see if a cat is lurking behind anything near. Judging, in origin, is a survival mechanism. Should I, or should I not, be here? Answering the question incorrectly could mean death. Answering correctly could mean survival or success.


Over time cultures have developed structures and customs to deal with sustenance. The customs that worked well have survived; in such a sense as survival is considered better than extinction… those customs and structures were better than failed systems. Eventually societies came to a point where simple survival had been more or less effectively dealt with, and the remaining systems were left to duke it out for supremacy in different areas.

From the perspective of the historian, there is no doubt that an agricultural society was better equipped at survival than a hunter-gatherer society. Because of this, the historian will judge the agricultural society as a better society than the nomadic one. The answer to which society is best is often left unanswered until history has passed the solution to the ledgers of the past… but you can be confidant that some will win and some will fail in the score book.

You cannot help from making judgments. Making a judgment is a part of your very soul as a living creature. It’s even more essential to you than most creatures since you are a human being with a potentially highly perceptive and analytically mind. To avoid making judgments, and teaching children and students to avoid judging, is the equivalent to going into a jungle without a machete, insect repellant and clean water. In other words… it’s unwise.

The entire concept of wisdom is lost in a society that demotes judging to taste-test scenarios. It comes to a society that has given up philosophy, lost its love for wisdom.


On a cultural level, judgment was degraded when certain necessary social movements were misinterpreted. In the past, cultures have tended to misjudge the value of women… claiming that women were incapable of thinking and working. That idea has been found wrong. In the past, America felt that blacks were incapable to think and work higher jobs. That was found to be wrong.


Using those cases as lessons, cultural critics decided (judged) that wholesale assessment of groups of people was often wrong and destructive. This was then turned to a philosophical ideal to guide people in their outlooks on life. People gradually accepted this belief as a moral (wise) approach to living.

But the wholesale judgment of a race or culture is completely different that the concrete, specific actions, traits and thoughts of particular people. Educators, parents and even pulpits have erroneously extended the general concept of withholding judgment of a large group to the specific actions of a person. They have, perhaps without intent, caused people to assume that there really is no such thing as better or worse. The result is a degradation of judging.


The errors made by social reformers are that they did not identify the nature of society’s historically erroneous prejudices. Because women and races and ideas have been improperly subjugated to suppression on prejudice, social reformers assumed that judging was a bad habit. They failed to see that judging was not the problem, but the basis and premises of those judgments were at fault. The act of judging others has never been wrong when applied to their actions… the act of judging human value based upon race, color and sex has been wrong.


Giving up the art of judging undermines the entire purpose of our educational system. It undermines the need for good parenting and nurturing. It’s not even wrong to judge an entire group of people when the entire group of people you are judging are involved in a certain activity that needs to be judged.

Making good judgments is essential to everybody’s success and wellbeing. It’s not some hokey concept that has lost its relevance because we’re in an information age. Judging will never become irrelevant, and certainly not inconsequential.

Relativism & Judging

Essays concerning cultural relativism and judging.

  1. The Paradox of Cultural Relativism
  2. The art of judging


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