It’s back-to-school time in the Year of Mercy, so I bring you a learning opportunity. I am a teacher by training (although not currently by profession), so I love learning, and I love helping other people learn. It’s a reflex, an instinct, and the method by which I hope to make a difference in the world. If you thought learning stopped at your graduation (or even at the end of your last job-related training course), you were wrong.
I’ve got a whopper for you: a speech given by Catholic philosopher and professor Peter Kreeft. It’s about justice, and philosophy, and a little bit about mercy. According to Kreeft, there are nineteen different types of judgment. And you thought you were off the hook once you learned a charitable, apologetics-fueled response to “judge not, lest ye be judged” (Matthew 7:1)!
This isn’t school, though, so there’s no test at the end. The only test is your life. As I read Kreeft’s talk, I found myself recognizing principles I knew, learning unfamiliar concepts, and drawing conclusions about both. I hope that you will take the opportunity to do the same.
Here’s my outline of all nineteen types of judgment. Some words and phrases are the author’s, but many are mine.
1. Logical judgment: I know what this thing is, but what type of thing is this? What category does it belong to? How do I define it? (For example, this is an apple; is it a fruit?)
Concepts tell us what, judgments tell us whether, and reasoning tells us why. We understand essences in concepts, existence in judgments, and causes in reasoning.
2. Theoretical judgment: Is it true? Is it a fact?
Practical Judgments (about the goodness of thoughts and of things)
3. Value judgment: Is there a natural, moral law?
4. Judgment of goodness: Is it good or bad in accord with the moral law?
5. Judgment of moral judgment: Can we judge morally?
6. Prudential judgment: Does it bring us not just pleasure, and not just happiness, but joy?
7. Judgment of utility: Is it useful in helping us attain our end? Does it fit with our experience of what will give us pleasure? Does it fit with the commandments of what will bring us moral goodness?
8. Judgment of positive law and positive goods: Is it good or bad in accord with human law?
The essential motive for punishment should not be rehabilitation or deterrence but justice. … Otherwise, we will give unjust, undeserved punishments just because we think they will work better to rehabilitate or deter. Judgments as to what will rehabilitate or deter are uncertain because they depend on our very fallible predictions of the future and our very fallible understanding of the criminal’s character.
9. Dynamic judgment: Does it fit our interpretation of the truth? (For example, can we read the law in a way that makes this otherwise illegal thing good? Can we read the Bible in a way that makes this otherwise immoral thing moral?)
The philosophical principle here is simple: we do not discover and obey truth, we create it with our judgments. Truth is not the subordination of thought to reality but to our will.
10. Communal judgment: Does it fit “the general will,” i.e. what everyone seems to think is true?
Social Judgments (about the goodness of people and of actions)
11. Judging God: Is this possible god both true and good, rational and moral?
God can do what is physically impossible but not what is logically or morally impossible. That is why Christ had to die: because God could not simply pretend we had not sinned, or say “Justice? Forget about it.”
12. Judging ourselves: I do good, and I do evil, but am I good, evil, or lukewarm?
13. Judging others: Are the actions of others good or evil? (Jesus forbids us from judging whether the people themselves are good or evil.)
14. Angelic judgment: Is it good intuitively and in the “big picture” (which angels can see)?
15. Creation: Something (i.e. the universe) is better than nothing.
16. Identification: Creating humans in the image and likeness of God was “very good.”
17. Providence: All things work together for good due to God’s omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence.
18. Incarnation: The birth, life, and death of Jesus was worth it, necessary, and the perfect solution to the problem of sin.
19. Consummation: Our ultimate good is to finally be perfect and in perfect union with him.
Whew! That was a long, wild philosophical ride. I won’t tell you how many times I had to read and re-read both the original speech and my own notes to hammer all that out. Overall, I appreciated that Kreeft outlined judgments that are positive, some that are negative, and others that are neutral. You might judge that an apple is not a fruit. You will be wrong, but you won’t necessarily harm anyone by that incorrect judgment. Judgments of human law carry much more risk than judgments about things. Divine judgments all work for our good, thanks be to God, including the final judgment by which we receive not justice, but mercy.
I also enjoyed Kreeft’s social commentary woven in with the philosophical instruction. It is very difficult in our time to judge people based on their actions, but, as Kreeft points out, that’s what morality is: judging people’s actions. It’s tougher to judge actions apart from people when those people identify themselves by their actions. They don’t see any difference between the two. It flies in the face of Brene Brown’s breakout TED talk, where she highlights the difference: guilt says, “I did a bad thing,” but shame says, “I am a bad person.” Judgment #13 seeks the former, but those being judged only hear the latter.
As Kreeft does in his clever ending, I now offer my outline and comments for a twentieth judgment: by you. And I, too, ask you to be merciful like the Father.