28 May 2009

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: What is wrong with being judgemental?

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing; what’s wrong with being judgemental?

Richard might be writing an essay and if he does I’ll post it on the blog. In the meantime I’m including a rather short essay on the topic which I managed to write.

See you Sunday, all the best



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What is wrong with being judgemental?

What does “being judgemental” mean? And although meaning is not the same as definition, I will start by proposing a definition.

To make negative value judgements, which may also be moral judgements, about someone or someone’s behaviour without seeming to take into account all the relevant facts or evidence.

We might deem a practice as being wrong, for example unsupervised child birth at home, without considering the cultural or traditional practice of the mother. The meaning is to show lack of sensitivity or regard to other people’s feelings or beliefs when expressing an opinion about them.

It is self evident, or at least ought to be, that making judgments about others without considering material facts or evidence is not to be encouraged, if not down right unacceptable.

However, this still leaves open the questions, what constitutes “material facts”? And how many material facts are required to qualify us to make a value judgment about others? But these methodology issues, I would argue, are empirical issues in the sense that we can decide on what qualifies someone to make value judgements on a case by case basis.

For example, we can condemn unhealthy snack eaters because we happen not to like snacks such as crisps, or we can criticise, snack eaters because studies have shown that such snacks are unhealthy. (see this story that appeared in the Daily Mail in 2006: Schoolboy punished for 'having two unhealthy snacks' http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-410292/Schoolboy-punished-having-unhealthy-snacks.html : 16:07 13 October 2006). Does our ability to dislike something qualify us to criticise those who happen to like the things we don’t like? But are scientific studies a sufficient condition to give us the right to condemn others? In the story of the young boy, the boy was forced to have lunch in the head’s office because his parents packed two snacks which is against school health guidelines sent to parents.

But there is an equally important issue in a debate on being judgemental. Whatever the justification for the person making the value judgement is, what matters for that person to be called judgemental is the opinion of the “victim” or those who disagree with this person making the judgement. Of course, those who agree with this person wouldn’t call him judgemental but maybe perceptive, wise, fair etc.

This introduces the idea of what is fair? What can we judge others on and what is out of bounds? In today’s world, top ticket issues would involve culture, tradition, religion, and race.

Consider this report that appeared in Women’s eNews: Bolivia Pushes Birthing Practices Closer to Home
Run Date: 11/30/08 By Jean Friedman-Rudovsky WeNews correspondent: http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/3839/context/cover/..

The issue in this article is that although the Bolivian government has made birth health care for women free, with a noticeable degree of success, many indigenous women either do not have access to this service or do not feel at all comfortable in a hospital setting. For example, indigenous women are empowered during childbirth because this is one of the very few occasions they have when the male (husband) is doing what the woman (wife) is asking him to do; cook, look after the other children etc. However, in hospitals, fathers and family members are not allowed near the women giving birth because it is unsanitary or as one hospital staffer is quoted as saying; what if the husband of one woman sees another woman's private parts?

Another example given in the article is of a doctor, “chided his patient for her 'dirty rituals' (burying the placenta after childbirth).”

This story surely illustrates the case that culture and tradition are rife with examples of being judgemental. Of course, bedside manners, information and understanding others will go a long way. For example, some doctors now go to villages in the mountains where women give birth at home but if there are complications the doctor intervenes or sends the patient to hospital. And by allowing women to have visitors in hospital surgical interventions were reduced.

However, the big issue or rather problem begins when we fail to consider the evidence. Or when we are prejudiced or racist that prevents us from considering any objective evidence. Sometimes maybe because we want to be prejudiced and sometimes maybe because we have been indoctrinated.

The problem for an objective observer would therefore be, to distinguish the bigots from the innocent and the naive.

Take care


from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: What is wrong with being judgemental?

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