‘The Ethics of Being Judgmental’ talk clarifies blaming and judgement

By Ally Hembree

It’s easy to be judgmental, especially of those closest to us. On Feb. 9, Neal Tognazzini, a Professor of Philosophy at Western Washington, gave a lecture on how to assess the ethics of judgmental thoughts and actions.

Tognazzini’s area of expertise within philosophy centers upon the ethics of interpersonal relationships.

The lecture broke down the ethics of blaming, specifically hypocritical blaming, in order to explain how judgemental thoughts become problematic. “One thought I had about the hypocritical moral blame is that when you blame people you are trying to get them not just to change their ways because it’s the right thing to do, but also to change their ways because I told you to, because I asked you to,” Tognazzini said. “In the case of hypocrisy, somehow that gets disabled.”

Building on the ethics of blaming, Tognazzini focused in on the thought processes of judgmentalism framed by his relationship with his mother-in-law and her judgments about his landscaping habits. While Tognazzini adamantly expressed his respect for his mother-in-law, Tognazzini posits, backed by the scholarship of Gary Watson, a professor at the University of Southern California, that judgmentalism is a vice.

Explaining Watson’s idea of judgmentalism as a vice, Tognazzini said, “It’s a second-order vice meaning it’s a vice that pertains to how we respond to the moral shortcomings of ourselves and others. So first order vices are moral shortcomings; a second order vice is a vice in how we respond to moral shortcomings, how we respond to first-order vices.”

Part of the reason that humans are judgmental is because we approach humans as humans. Because we see humans as humans, how people act towards others reveals, according to Tognazzini, individual internalized priorities.

While the lecture was clear about how some judgments lack constructiveness, there was confusion surrounding the delineation between valid criticism and an unethical judgement. This confusion brought about questions about the ethics of judging people known to be immoral and judgment’s role in social justice.

Sophomore Izzy Lidsky asked, “So let’s say you’re making a negative judgment about a person you have a negative relationship with, would that still make you judgmental or would that just make you right?”

Tognazzini quickly cleared up some ambiguity with a quick anecdote from Harry Potter. “I think it might just make you right,” Tognazzini said. “Somebody that you don’t like and you don’t like for good reasons, who you think is morally abhorrent … well, Voldemort, take him as an example. I make all sorts of judgments about him; he’s evil, he’s hateful, I don’t want to have a beer with him. Take all of those judgments I make and am I being judgmental? I don’t think so. Why not? Well in part, because I’m not his friend and also in part his wrongdoing is so egregious that I think we all have the standings to make judgments about him.”

Whether attendees were interested community and faculty members or students looking for philosophy extra credit, Tognazzini’s discussion of the ethics of judgment created a space of palatable introspection about how we react to the world. “I went because I tend to be kind of a judgmental person,” Lidsky said. “I’m interested in a lot of scopes in moral philosophy so I thought it might offer some perspective on that.”

Ultimately, the lecture gave attendees some ethical framing to how they act in interpersonal situations. “I don’t think I am going to change necessarily,” junior Evan Eurs said, “but at least I can think about why I am making those judgements.”

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