I keep thinking, now as I start to mark this semester’s essays, about that question: “So do you want our own opinions on the texts?” In the final revision seminar (too late for the essays, I think), I came up with an answer I quite liked: “I don’t really want your opinions, I want your judgments”.

Probably that was even scarier. Anyone is allowed, nay encouraged, to have an opinion. Actually anyone can have a bash at “defending” an opinion. But only people who have thought about it and worked for it are allowed to make judgments.

Is it possible that “good judgment” is a key part of what we attempt to teach, and also an under-discussed and under-recognised virtue? Is it in any sense a transferable skill? Is it utterly ridiculous to think that the capacity to make, explain and stand by judgments about Nietzsche is in any way linked to the capacity to make, explain and stand by judgments about (let’s say) a company’s HR policies or a child’s behaviour or a team’s ability to perform a task?

It is, I think, at least possible that knowing the difference between “my opinion” and “my judgment” is useful and transferable.


2 responses to this post.

  1. That is spooky. I was making notes for the final chapter of the HE book today, in the Caravan of Seclusion, and thinking about the ‘Do you want our opinion or not?’ I decided to go with the answer, ‘No, I want your judgment’…

    I was thinking of the court-room scenario I sometimes spin to students – asking them to imagine that they are a judge in a case that calls for a written verdict, and that their job is to summarise the evidence, the case for the defence as it drew upon that evidence, the case for the prosecution as it drew upon the same evidence, and then to give their judgment – and explaining to them that this is not the same as being called as an expert witness (one more voice on one or other side of the case). I was wondering whether I could find a good example of such a document to walk through with students, so they could see what the judge did – one where it did not come down too much to technical legal arguments.

    Genuinely unsure about the ‘transferable skill’ question, though.


    • That is, in my opinion if not my judgment, REALLY spooky.
      Incidentally, I used occasionally to proofread decision letters by a planning inspector (my father), which were perfect short examples of that sort of document – often, of course, they do include technical arguments about planning regulations and procedures, but sometimes at least they are mainly about more generally accessible issues (e.g. will turning this house into business premises lead to parking problems in the road, or won’t it?) And they always end in a clear judgment and a yes/no decision (and, by convention, “I remain, Sir [or Madam], your humble and obedient servant” – which must be particularly irritating if what the letter says is “no, you can’t actually build that huge extension to your house”). Must ask whether they are ever made publicly available.


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