Constraining condemning

Ethics 108 (3):489-501 (1998)
Our culture is conflicted about morally judging and condemning. We can't avoid it altogether, yet many layfolk today are loathe to do it for reasons neither they nor philosophers well understand. Their resistance is often confused (by themselves and by theorists) with some species of antiobjectivism. But unlike a nonobjectivist, most people think that (a) for us to judge and condemn is generally (objectively) morally wrong , yet (b) for God to do so is (objectively) proper, and (c) so too for certain persons in certain relations (e.g., self-condemnation, parental child rearing.) Certainly, religious (e.g., Christian) critics of judging and condemning without doubting the objective truth of their tradition's core moral teachings. Most puzzling is that (a) merely judging and condemning in one's heart may be improper, and (b) someone else with no more evidence or expertise might properly judge and condemn the same action. The answer is in condemning's complex structure of presuppostions. Condemning and judging are acts, and attitudes initiated by the act. Condemnation is motivated by two judgments presumed to justify it, a criticism of a target, and a judgment that the criticism justifies some negative response toward the target. Unlike nonpunitive penalties, punishments are motivated and explained by condemnation. Condemnation is an act of a hostile will, wishing some evil for its target, not (just) as a means to some good. Its root is in damning, an act akin to cursing. It declares a degraded status. The hostility makes it harder to justify condemnation than criticism, and punishment than nonpunitive penalties. Condemning claims objectivity and authority. It involves reflexive evaluation, regarding itself justified, approving its hostile feelings toward the target. Condemners presume themselves entitled to sit in judgment, pass judgment, and cast the condemned down. Those presumptions inhere in sitting in judgment, assuming jurisdiction. Unlike mathematical or scientific judgments, passing moral judgment seems to be a political act subject to extraepistemic constraints. "Who are you to judge?" may properly challenge your right to pass judgment.
Keywords condemnation  punishment  moral judgment  ill will  authority
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DOI 10.1086/233823
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