The conclusion or decision that reason has reached we call a judgment.
The youth who decides against the sweet between meals, we say, has good
judgment. And we base our commendation on the proved fact that sweets
are real fuel, giving abundantly of heat and energy, and are not to be
eaten as mere pastime when the body is already fully supplied with
high calorie food not yet burned up; that if sweets are eaten at
irregular intervals and at the call of appetite, and not earned by an
adequate output of physical work, the digestive apparatus may become
clogged, and an overacid condition of the entire intestinal tract
threaten. We call judgment good, then, when it is the result of
reasoning with correct or logical premises which correspond with the
facts of life. We call it bad when it is the conclusion of incorrect or
partial or illogic premises.
A premise "is a proposition laid down, proved, supposed, or assumed,
that serves as a ground for argument or for a conclusion; a judgment
leading to another judgment as a conclusion" (Standard Dictionary).
Let us illustrate good and bad judgment by following out two lines of
reasoning, each quite accurate as such.
I want sweets. Sweets are good for people. They give heat and energy,
and I need that, for I am chilly and tired. People say "Don't eat sweets
between meals." But why? They contain just what I need and the sooner I
get them the better.
So I have sweets when I want them. The judgment to take the sweets as
desire indicates is entirely logical if we accept all the premises as
correct. And they are, so far as they go; but they are partial; and so
cannot altogether correspond with the facts of life. Sweets are good for
people who expend much physical energy. They prove injurious in more
than limited amounts to the bed-ridden, the inactive, or the sluggish.
Hence this premise is partial and so far incorrect. Sweets do give heat
and energy, true. I am chilly and tired, also true. But why? Because I
am already toxic from the sweets and meats I have had throughout my
sedentary years. The question is, Do I need any more energy-producing
food when I am not burning up what I have? So again the premise is
partial. I do need heat and energy, but I already have the material for
it, and my mode of life has disorganized my system's capacity to utilize
these foods normally. So now sweets have become a detriment to my
well-being. The judgment which determines me to the habit of eating
sweets between meals is the result of logic, but of logic spent on tying
up premises which do not fit the facts of the case.
One of the most prevalent defects of judgment is illustrated in this
common disability to select premises which fit the facts. Ignorance,
emotional reasoning, and a defective critical sense probably explain
most poor judgments.
The other judgment illustrates the logic of correct, provable premises.
"No, I shall wait until dinner-time. I have no need of so rich a food,
for I had an adequate meal at the usual time and have not worked hard
enough to justify adding this burden to my digestive apparatus; besides
only hard workers with their muscles can afford to eat many sweets. They
cause an overacid condition when taken in excess; and any except at
mealtimes would be excess for me, with my moderate physical exercise."
This judgment we call good. Its premises correspond to scientific facts.
But much reasoning must always be done with probable premises, ones
which seem to correspond to the facts, but which have yet to be proved.
And our judgment from such suppositions cannot be final until we see if
Some few centuries ago supposedly wise men called Christopher Columbus a
fool. Of course the world was flat. If it were round man would fall off.
It was all spread out and the oceans were its limits. If it should be
round, like a ball, as that mad man claimed, then the waters must reach
from Europe 'round the sphere and touch Asia; or there might be land
out there beyond the ocean's curve. But it wasn't round, and the idea of
finding a new way to Asia by sailing in the opposite direction was a
Their logic was perfect. If the earth was flat, and Asia lay east of
Europe, it was madness to sail west to reach it. But they argued from a
wrong premise, so their judgment was imperfect--for they did not yet
know the facts.
The result of all reasoning is judgment. And judgment is good as the
materials of the reasoning process correspond to facts, or are in line
with the most probable of the yet unknown. It is poor as the reasoning
material fails to meet the facts, or is out of harmony with the most
probable of the yet unproved.
It is of no avail, then, to attempt to improve our final judgments as
such. We must examine the materials we reason with, then learn to group
and compare them logically. And in the very separating of true premises
from false, we use and train the judgment we would improve. And this the
normal mind can do.
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