You're wrong about me (and I'm right about you), part 8: Judgments

A brave new voice has rung out in the wilderness, purporting to disagree with me on my “right and wrong” catechism. That I actually agree with the voice doesn’t make it any less brave. Here’s Lisa Marie’s statement.

I don't want to sound contrary, but I think negative judgments need someone to defend them.

Aren't any negative judgments ever right? Aren't any artists overrated? Wouldn't you be justifiably irritated if I suggested you were just in a bad mood and succumbing to irrational prejudice when you say that Ella Fitzgerald's bossa nova renditions give you the aesthetic equivalent of hives?

And isn't the converse of Terry's experience not “judging correctly because in a positive frame of mind, but “having one's pocket picked from being over-certain of another's good faith”?

Of course I can see that teachers, doctors and priests need/ought to hold off from judging pupils, patients and parishioners too quickly or harshly. And book reviewers should try to practice charity more assiduously even than the rest of us. But arguments about aesthetic matters are surely a form of human flourishing and must often involve someone saying "I really don't like this.” The examination of why someone objects to some great work or artist is often fascinating and need not leave one less free to come to one's own conclusions.

I absolutely agree with everything Lisa Marie says! Plenty of negative judgments are right, and plenty of positive judgments are wrong. Plenty of artists are overrated. The naive permanently risk getting their pockets picked, literally and metaphorically. The give-and-take of aesthetic arguments is very enriching, and stating one’s likes and dislikes unequivocally is all for the better. My philosophy isn’t “Never make negative judgments” but, rather, “Make the judgments that you will, positive or negative, but don’t forget you may possibly be wrong about them—particularly if the judgments come from preconceived ideas of which you may not be aware. And if you find out you’re wrong about something, change your mind and your behavior regarding the thing in question. Your change may come from a judgment that goes from negative to positive, or from positive to negative. It all depends.”

A positive judgment may be wrong and extremely harmful—for instance, when the electorate issues a positive judgment on a wicked politician. In such a case the collective duty is to scream bloody murder.

I don’t plan to start liking Ella’s bossa nova renditions any time soon. Or anything by John Denver. Or Barry Manilow. No way—not Barry Manilow. I’ll never change my mind about Barry Manilow. Not in a million years. Never, ever, ever.