Social Question

wildpotato's avatar

Are knowing and judging separate faculties?

Asked by wildpotato (13493 points ) May 31st, 2012

This question is inspired by a conversation Adirondackwannabe and I had on tinyfaery’s thread.

My favorite prof once said we are all biased, and the key is to be aware that you will inevitably make certain assumptions because of your unique perception and to strive not to judge based on those assumptions. But is there a clear line between knowing something and forming an opinion about it? We are all, at least to some extent, products of our background, and have been implanted with (or in other cases have formed) prejudices based on that background. Are our prejudices all wrapped up in our perceptions, so that seeing a thing and assigning it content automatically also includes forming a judgment about it? If you think knowledge and judgment are separable – do different people allow opinion into their knowledge-process more than others? Do you think it’s wrong to allow opinion to inform fact, or that it’s just inevitable?

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6 Answers

elbanditoroso's avatar

I would say yes.

Knowing (knowledge) to me, implies a set of facts – a reference encyclopedia, for example, that is held in your brain as a base of experience and things you have learned.

Judging is the application of those facts to a situation or to a problem. One cannot (should not) judge without the knowledge or the facts; but if all you have is knowledge but no way to apply it, it isn’t being used fully.

wundayatta's avatar

Of course not! They are part and parcel of the same thing. Think about the purpose of images and adornments on bodies. People are trying to express themselves. They are trying to communicate something about themselves. We all know this intuitively, and so we attempt to interpret what they are trying to say.

The problem is that what we say is colored strongly by the culture and subculture we come from, as well as our own aesthetic taste. Most of the people who see us, aren’t going to know a lot of that, so it is easy to get a different message from what the person is trying to convey if you do not share a cultural heritage.

When I say share a cultural heritage, I mean that very narrowly. I don’t mean “American” or “British” or something. I mean as specific as the cultural references that are known only within a family. Sometimes even that is not enough to understand another person.

When we talk about withholding judgment, I think we are trying to recognize the idea that there is personal history here that is important and that we don’t know. If we want to understand the aesthetics of the person, we need to know their personal history.

So, in the example of the cat called mushroom, you need to know that there was a cat named mushroom (or whatever the story is) in order not to make the mistake of thinking that the mushroom tattoo is a drug reference. Thinking the mushroom tattoo is a drug reference is probably a common reaction because people like to place hidden and socially subversive messages into images. If you choose to place such an image on yourself, then no matter how much care you take to make it look non-drug related, someone is sure to think it is about magic mushrooms.

Communication is difficult. People have different frames of reference. We have different aesthetics. And we must always be analyzing and, hence, judging what we see in order to make our best guess at what the images mean.

Even then, we usually need to look at images on several levels. One is the level of what the artist meant. In the case of the tattoo, I guess it is what the wearer (is that how to say it) meant—why they chose to have that image inked on their skin.

However, it is also impossible not to think about what you, the viewer, think of the image. What associations does it have for you? What does it mean to you? This has nothing to do with the wearer, since your life is unique and the wearer has no idea what the viewers experiences might be.

Another way of looking is in a social context. What do you think others might think? What is the social consensus about this work of art?

Judgement is required for all these views, and I don’t think it is possible to be human and to view without judgment. Maybe if you were semi-brain dead. What makes us human is our capacity to judge and decide what things mean. We might try to hold off on creating final judgment until we have more information, and that’s generally a good thing, unless we are in life threatening situations.

However, there are many situations where we need to make snap judgments before we know much of anything. In those cases, we often make judgments from prejudice, and that, I believe, is healthy. It is an art to know when you can wait to judge and when you can’t, and when you don’t know if it is safe to wait, it is safer to judge quickly. Thus we end up with prejudice and discrimination. I think that there is no way around this. Nor do I think it would be desirable to find a way around this. yes, prejudice can cause harm, but it also keeps people safe. What we need to work on is eliminating the harmful prejudices while not also throwing out the useful ones.

marinelife's avatar

Yes, it is possible to know something without making a judgment about it.

thorninmud's avatar

I think that perception necessarily triggers an associative process. We recall our previous experiences with similar objects, and those recollections will include any positive or negative feelings we carried away from those encounters. This is a fundamental aspect of how animals learn to adapt to their environment, so it is a low-level process.

We do have access to a higher level process, though, which can question the validity of our instinctive reactions and override them if they are determined to be irrational. If someone is attacked by a person of a particular race, there will likely be a certain conditioning effect that will cause the trauma of that event to resurface whenever someone of that race is perceived in the future. That is the low-level process at work, and I’m not sure that much can be done about that. The question then becomes whether the higher-level process gets engaged. If so, it may be recognized that there is no rational basis for generalizing the behavior of one representative of a racial group to all of its members. This higher-level process may even extend so far as to question the validity of the entire concept of race. The feeling of unease may persist in some attenuated form, but the higher-level process can override our impulse to base our behavior on it.

So I’m not sure how to fit “judgment” into this. Are those positive or negative associations judgments? They hardly seem worthy of the term. I’m more inclined to say that a judgment is a rationalization that attempts to take those low-level, associative feelings and turn them into something that one “knows” about this or that category of object. That’s an additional step beyond the feeling itself. I would say, then, that the higher-level process involves exercising the option to withhold that additional step. It could be thought of as a willingness to say “I don’t know” this or that about this particular object.

kess's avatar

Can someone live thier Life without judging….absolutely not…we live in a world of good and evil and everyone of us knows the diffefence to an extent.

So that alone say you have made judgements.

But when one says dont judge.. To me it mean do not give a condemning judgement.

All do appreciate approval and to approve anything you must first make a judgement on it.

The one with all Knowledge pertaining to anything is the only one fit to make a condemning judgement.
But because he has all knowledge also means he can find a way to excuse.

So unless you know all judge not to condemn otherwise your condemnation will count against your ownself also even of you were right.

rooeytoo's avatar

I think once you have knowledge, you make judgements. It seems inevitable to me. The knowledge can be based on personal experience, book learning, environment, etc. And I don’t think you can separate them. I also don’t think it is problematic. Making judgements are what keeps us alive. You make a judgement that you can get across the street before the oncoming car hits you. You make a judgement not to walk down a dark street alone. You make a judgement to cross a street to avoid an approaching shadowy figure. Some judgements may not be smart but I don’t see how you can avoid making them as long as your are alive.

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