Judge not, Lest You Be

Every statement is, by its nature, a judgment. That one, for instance. In it, I have judged that every statement is a judgment. And you, perhaps reflecting on it, are moving in your own mind toward making a judgment of your own.

You might agree, which is to say, you might judge it to be true.

Or you might disagree, which is to say, you might judge it to be false, or worse.

You might even judge it to be evil, because we all know that judging is wrong. Therefore, if I argue that every statement is a judgment then I am arguing that we are always doing something wrong.

If you are pious, you might conclude that our Lord has told us never to speak, since He told us “judge not.” If you so conclude, you will have judged your conclusion to be just. Thus, even if you don’t speak, if you draw a conclusion, you will have judged.

In short, to speak is to judge. Indeed, to think is to judge.

So I judge.

One could follow a number of paths from this beginning.

For example, one could seek out exactly what our Lord meant when He drew the judgment that we should not judge, especially given that the very next verse indicates that we should make a rather complex judgment about how to handle pearls in the presence of swines.

Or one could develop the implications on the modern mind, so badly trained and so badly informed on moral and philosophical matters, when he is told not to judge, and concludes from that premise, consciously or not, that he is unfit to think for himself (therefore he should, he judges, follow his feelings) or to guide others (therefore he should, he refuses to acknowledge that he has judged, allow them to destroy themselves).

Or one could develop a long and elaborate treatise that defends the need for judgment and therefore to distinguish sound and just judgment from unsound and unjust judgment and draws some general guidelines for when to judge absolutely, when relatively, and when to keep one’s mouth and even mind shut.

Or one could even develop a farcical, satirical, or even cynical theme on the tendency for those who are most prone to judge wildly and in a self-serving way (i.e. politicians and other lovers of power) to condemn the act of judgment, so as to avoid a careful assessment (another word for judgment) of their own actions.

I want to go in what seems to me, at least at first, in a simpler direction. I want to think about the prerequsites to sound judgment.

And lest this seem like a fruitless, philosophical exercise, let me remind you that the goal of education at least includes among its essential qualities that status of wisdom that distinguishes the disciplined thinker from the careless. And surely the mark of a wise man is to judge things rightly!

Thus the goal of education is to judge rightly.

Do you judge this to be true or false, right or wrong, just or unjust, fitting or unfitting, beautiful or ugly, wise or foolish?

It makes all the difference which you judge fitting.

I judge that we have now covered enough ground to complete the preamble, and I further judge that we are ready to look for the prerequisites to sound judgment that I raised earlier. (As an aside, I further judge that every statement always begins with the implied bilogos (a term that I just created, having judged it both amusing and potentially helpful for people who want to contemplate this matter verbally, though it is also, of course, a potential distraction, capable of evolving into a long and relatively distracting parenthetical phrase) “I judge”.)

What are the prerequisites to sound judgment, which is the goal of education? Therefore, what are the things we most need to teach our children and ourselves as we seek this marvel called education?

I judge, having reflected on this literally since childhood, that the first prerequisite to judge something rightly is to perceive it rightly. Thus the beginning of a true education is the training of the powers of perception.

It follows that if we misjudge the powers of perception, limiting them, for example, to what the senses can perceive, we cannot possibly lay a sound foundation for our children’s education.

Perception, however, is not enough.

First of all, to perceive demands attentiveness. To attempt to educate a child without training his powers of attention is an impossible endeavor, perhaps even an act of folly.

Secondly, in order to assess, evaluate, draw conclusions, express oneself, in short, to judge, one must be able to compare one’s perceptions with each other.

If one perceives accurately and if one compares perceptively, then one is well on the way to making sound judgments.

But the instant one allows the will to interfere with the powers of perception or comparison, in that instant he has turned aside from the path to wisdom, a path which to leave, I judge, is the purest act of folly.

Thus I judge, to conclude this post, though, I trust, not these reflections, that to reduce judgment to the status of an act of intellect only is a reduction against which the intellect will cry out its own judgement that you have committed an act of injustice.

In other words, judging rightly is not merely an intellectual act. It is personal.

To conclude, the path to wisdom begins with attentive perception, climbs the mountains of comparison, and, after painstaking labor, it arrives at the pinnacle of sound judgment, from which it can perceive with the soul all the beauties of the cosmos. To climb this mountain is to absorb its power into oneself.