Epistemic status: Mostly sorting out my own thoughts here. Feel free to try to convince me I am wrong.
In earlier drafts of this post, I held the belief that "judging people is bad." I even went to great lengths to avoid passing judgment and occasionally adjusted my moral framework accordingly. However, I have recently come to realize that my previous stance was mistaken. In this post, I will explain how I reached this conclusion, although I won't provide extensive evidence. While not a groundbreaking idea, this shift in my long-held belief holds personal significance to me.
For the purpose of this discussion, I will define judgment as follows:
Judgment is the act of forming an opinion regarding the extent of positive and negative impact something will have on oneself or the world.
Although this definition may appear complex, it captures the essence of how the term is typically used in literature and personal experiences.
Surprisingly, merely clarifying the definition of judgment was sufficient to completely reverse my moral intuition.
Judgment represents an opinion about the inherent "goodness" or "badness" of something. It is essentially the outcome of a utility calculation—whether the overall impact is positive or negative. However, it is important to differentiate judgment from credence, which denotes the level of belief in a particular judgment.
For instance, I have judged that alcohol is detrimental to my well-being, and I assign 80% credence to that judgment. Consequently, it would require significant life changes and a shift in perspective to convince me otherwise.
On the other hand, I have judged that Justin Timberlake is the best singer from NSYNC, but my credence in this judgment is less than 1%. If a stranger were to challenge my opinion, it would easily change since I hold this view rather lightly.
Both judgment and credence are necessary to motivate action. I would never act upon a judgment in which I have near-zero credence. Even if someone were to inquire, "What is your opinion on X, crimson_chin?" I would respond with something like, "Honestly, I don't know much about it. Do you?" While this response may be misleading, as my gut can form a judgment on anything, without supporting reasoning, I assign zero credence.
The combination of judgment and credence empowers us to take action. In a simplified equation, we can express it as:
Action impact = Judgment * Credence
Here, the "action impact" is a subjective measure of how influential an action will be, ranging from 1 to -1 (where negative values indicate actions taken against something). "Judgment" represents a ratio of net good to bad, ranging from 1 to -1, with zero signifying neutrality and positive values indicating a greater degree of goodness. "Credence" signifies the level of belief in a judgment, ranging from 0 to 1.
Naturally, this equation is a crude approximation and not a mathematically accurate representation. To illustrate, let's consider the following example:
Should Massachusetts implement a law requiring individuals over 90 years old to retake a driver's test if they wish to continue driving?
Judgment: 0.7 (seems to have more benefits than costs)
Credence: 0.10 (I thought about this for the first time today, but it seems straightforward)
In this case, the action impact would be 0.07 on a scale of 1, indicating a relatively low impact. While I might consider expressing my opinion among friends, engaging in actions such as soliciting votes, lobbying for the law, or advertising my view would have too much impact to align with this equation.
I acknowledge that this equation is overly simplistic. While it doesn't incorporate decision theory, Kelly constants for limited resources, or game theoretic principles, it remains the most practical formulation I could devise.
Furthermore, I recognize that instead of discrete judgment and credence values, it may be more accurate to consider probability distributions of judgments and their associated credences. However, I believe that such an approach would be theoretically sound but less applicable in practice.
The irony is not lost on me; I am passing judgment on judgments themselves.
Viewed within the context of my definition, judgments lack consequences without accompanying credence. Judgments are only actionable when supported by some degree of credence. When well-formed credences are considered, judgments are not inherently harmful. In fact, they are a fundamental component of rational thought. While judgments can range from being close to correct to being far from correct, they should not be acted upon until their associated credence is high.
However, the absence of judgment is detrimental. Failing to form judgments when presented with potential values or ideas would be a mistake. What if it's a good idea worth adopting, or a bad idea that should be avoided? Deliberately refraining from passing judgment amounts to wearing blinders and abstaining from critical thinking. Judging, it seems, is consistently a wise choice.
The only instance in which judgment becomes problematic is when the underlying credence is flawed. Utilizing a judgment without factoring in credence is dangerous and misguided. While judgments can certainly be misused, the real issue lies in inadequate credence rather than the judgment itself.
I have concluded that judgments are indeed valuable. Exercise caution when encountering individuals who discourage judgment; in reality, judgment should be applied to everything.
I have resolved to always engage in judgment but exercise great caution regarding the judgments I act upon and share. Actions should be aligned with the corresponding credence, meaning I should refrain from acting upon judgments that I hold loosely.
I find this model to be quite intuitive, and many would likely agree that it simply describes what we already know. However, I believe that the distinction between judgment and credence is crucial. When making decisions about which actions to take, it is essential to consider not only the judgments we hold but also the strength of our convictions.
For example, when someone asks for my opinion on a work-related matter, I may share my viewpoint along with the level of confidence I have in it.
When feeling overwhelmed about how to spend my time, I may shift my perspective from choosing the judgmentally "best" option to selecting the activity in which I have the highest confidence or the greatest credence.
Lastly, when observing the actions of others and an old but familiar voice in the back of my head advises, "Don't judge others," I can confidently respond, "I have the freedom to judge as I please, but I should refrain from making impulsive changes to my actions solely based on those judgments!"