In the middle of the 20th century, in her book Responsibility and Judgment, Hannah Arendt wrote:
There exists in our society a widespread fear of judging that has nothing whatever to do with the biblical "Judge not, that ye be not judged." [note]
Arendt wrote that behind the unwillingness to judge "lurks the suspicion that no one is a free agent, and hence the doubt that anyone is responsible or could be expected to answer for what he has done." Responsibility is an ingredient in the philosophy of modern philosophers, including Camus and Sartre – and Arendt. They do not dismiss it with the notion that we are just human or helpless sinners.
Ancient scripture also supported responsibility in judgment. Proverbs 31:9 reads, "Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy." Leviticus 19:15 has a little different twist:
You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly.
Ancient scripture did not speak with one mind, and it saw wisdom in obedience not recognized universally in modern times. But it does reflect experience.
When facing moral issues, even in passing, we confront our own competence in judging. The weak might ask, "Who am I to judge?" This, Arendt pointed out, is equivalent – or nearly equivalent – to saying we're all alike and equally bad. This is a moral relativism foreign to thinkers like Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre and Hannah Arendt. It is, Arendt, believed, for us to draw from what morality is within us to condemn rather than to excuse those who perpetrate evil.
Arendt was a Jew who escaped from Hitler's Germany.
Morality aside, we cannot escape making choices, and in making choices we cannot escape making judgments.
Copyright © 2010-2011 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.