XXIII. Judgments

Judgment is necessary in the formation of concepts. It requires mere perception to recognize the qualities of a thing - but to decide which of these qualities are characteristics and then consider specific things to be in or out of the concept definition are basic judgments.

A basis definition of judgment is the comparison between two things to determine whether they agree or disagree with one another. As such concept definition entails deciding what is a horse, and then assessing any animal we encounter to determine whether it agrees or disagrees with the definition of the category.

A judgment begins with a proposition that is assessed to be true or false. "That animal is a horse" proposes that the animal fits the qualifications of being a horse. We then consider its properties against the properties of the concept to determine whether the proposition is acceptable or must be rejected: that animal is indeed a horse, or it is not a horse at all.

The act of judgment is necessary to human life. While animal instincts direct them to take the actions necessary for survival, man has no such faculties. To make basic decisions means knowing whether that water is safe to drink, that animal is dangerous, that berry is not poisonous - each of which compares a thing to a concept in a manner that is critical for survival.

Strictly speaking, any intelligent act if the mind is based on a judgment, and sometimes multiple judgments at once. The simple act of recognizing things in an environment is a judgment, and the choice to give attention or ignore each of them is a second, and whether they pose an opportunity or a threat is a compound of a third and fourth judgment.

Our powers of perception and conceptualization are critical to making correct judgments. "In actual life things present themselves to us with their qualities disguised and obscured" and as such it is easy to ignore a threat or opportunity and pursue a less productive course of action. Knowledge also guides judgment - as for centuries the valuable resource of coal was overlooked as a coarse rock that was not good for much of anything - and the security in the judgment that "rocks do not burn" prevented anyone from recognizing its value.

A particular weakness in man is his predilection for shortcuts - for accepting the first judgment that makes sense and thinking on things no further. And another weakness is placing too much faith in the judgments of others - to accept what we are told rather than thinking for ourselves is a great deal easier, but to do so without question causes us to miss many opportunities, and to put ourselves into the hands of those who are foolish, conniving, or both.

Gullibility is evident in young children, who accept what they are told and do not think form themselves. This quality tends to fade with age, as experience teaches us to question things rather than take them for granted - but some men remain considerably gullible throughout their lives, accepting what they are told without question and even ignoring or denying evidence to the contrary.

He mentions Socrates, the ancient philosopher whose method of gaining knowledge is to refuse to take anything for granted, to ask questions about judgments that others accept automatically, and to explore evidence. The paradox is that he was wise because he believed himself to know nothing, and applied his mind to confirming the judgments offered to him by others.

Granted, the opposite extreme of gullibility - sheer incredulity - is entirely impractical. We cannot doubt everything at all times and constantly engage in investigation and deliberation - but we should at least clearly recognize the difference between an opinion we have accepted without judgment and one that we have carefully considered.

"It should be one of the leading objects of the culture of young people to lead them to acquire the habit of forming judgments," he writes, but observes that the process of education often involves the exact opposite: the teacher presents an opinion for the students to swallow whole, and tolerates no questioning of the ideas he offers. This is not education, but stupefaction.