Saturday, 2 February 2013

Is Judgement Ethical?

Good People and Going Wrong, Part 6

This is going to be a placeholder post because I am not sure at all about how to proceed. I feel intuitively like I could have an arguement for this last piece, but I also know that that's a terrible reason to support something. So I will lay out how I'm feeling, but let it be said beforehand that I might well be completely incorrect. Maybe even wrong!

One place where I feel really unstable in all of this is whether I should be making such assessments at all. Of course, there is one person of whom I absolutely must make such assessment, and that is myself. Beyond myself, though, I have generally been told that you should not judge others, and I find pretty much every reason for this prohibition to be compelling: Lewis and Chesterton claim that we do not know what others are going through or why they act, so we cannot know whether their actions are justified; actor-observer asymmetry and similar psychological biases indicate that we are utterly terrible at making fair assessments of other's motives and behaviours (especially when compared to our own); the very real possibility that I might be incorrect about what is moral or immoral should give me pause before judging another. So I feel like rendering judgement is unethical, pretty much always.

But I also feel like rendering judgement is necessary. For example, I do not think I am misguided for wanting to marry a good person, when the day comes. I want to be able to assess whether I am entering this partnership with someone I can rely on. Whether she earnestly attempts to be an ethical person is more important to me than the particular values or philosophical system...within the range I am trying to discover in these posts. Similarly, as much as I might be willing to expose myself to hurt by trusting those who seem untrustworthy, I would not expose someone else to such a person. Some of this is more related to predicting behaviour than judging how good a person is...but I don't think the second assessment is entirely out of place here, either. More, who do I turn to for advice about ethics. I am absolutely shoddy for finding such a confidante, so this is a living question for me. All told, I feel like rendering judgement is a necessary part of responsible and ethical action.

Let's recap: I feel that judgement is unethical and I feel that judgement is ethically necessary. So I really don't know what to do. I think the place to proceed is to figure out what I really mean by "judge," because I suspect that there are actually different actions going on here: there's a difference between assigning blame and deciding whether a person has arrived at their incorrect ethical system honestly and whether that system is tolerable.

Three parting comments:

1. I will say that I am not concerned at all about folks' salvatory status. That is not why I might be concerned if someone is a good person. I might be concerned, though, because I want to know where they are on their journey to being more Christ-like--though whether I have any role in helping them on that journey is another important question I have not answered.

2. I want to tell a terrible joke that I made up. The problem a utilitarian has choosing between two groups who have mutually exclusive happiness is called the Large Hedon Collider. :D

3. I generally find virtue ethics more admirable than anything else, and consequentialism more sensible than deontology, and deontology more tolerable than consequentialism (because consequentialism fails to articulate justice, stuff like "don't punish the guilty at the expense of the innocent" and "killing a handful of people for an increase in the already-comfortable majority's pleasure is not acceptable, even if it does maximize happiness for the greatest number of people"). But then again, I don't pretend to be much good at meta-ethics, so feel free to prove me wrong! (I place the burden of proof pretty high, though. I'll pick uncertainty over unfounded certainty.)

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