Rash Judgment

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An act of mind that, on the basis of insufficient evidence, attributes something morally discreditable to another or denies something morally creditable. As judgment, it is an act that affirms or denies with certainty and without the hesitation that is characteristic of suspicion. In suspicion one is inclined to accept something discreditable as true, but judgment accepts it with firm conviction. Rash judgment differs much more from doubt in a similar context. In doubt judgment is suspended and one hesitates between taking either a favorable or an unfavorable view. As rash, the judgment here in question is essentially imprudent precisely because it lacks a reasonable foundation. This is true even when the judgment happens accidentally to be in accord with fact, for the rashness or temerity of the act does not depend on its disagreement with fact but on the inconclusive nature of the evidence on which it is based.

Rash judgment that goes so far as to judge not merely exterior actions but internal culpability is offensive to God because it usurps His exclusive right to judge the hearts of men (1 Cor 4.5; Rom 14.4). In addition, it does a moral injury to the person judged, who has a right, if not to the positive good esteem of others, at least not to be held in disesteem without sufficient reason. This right is a matter of value to him and he should not be despoiled of it unless by his conduct he has forfeited claim to it. Moreover, rash judgment is a form of injustice apt to diffuse itself and result in further injuries. The internal judgment of the mind naturally seeks external expression, which it finds either by communication to others in the form of calumny or in the denial of the marks of respect to which the injured party is entitled.

Rash judgment is contrary to charity, which, according to St. Paul, thinks no evil (1 Cor 13.5). This opposition is apparent in the nature of the act. When the mind goes beyond evidence in its judgments it is the will that supplies for the deficiency of the premises. One believes because he wants to believe. Thus the wish that is father to the kind of thought involved in rash judgment is essentially malevolent and rejoices over wickedness in contradiction to the impulse of charity (1 Cor 13.6). However, the more immediate and specific malice of rash judgment lies in its opposition to justice.

Rash judgment is held by theologians to be a serious sin whenever the conditions necessary for subjective responsibility are fully realized and the judgment is concerned with something more than slight moral shortcomings. The severity with which rash judgment is condemned in the Scriptures is evidence of the gravity of the sin according to its kind (Mt 7.15; Lk 6.37). However, in any particular case rash judgment is not held to be mortally sinful unless the following conditions are verified: (1) The judgment must be fully deliberate and must consist of something more than vagrant and abrupt speculation. This condition implies also the necessity of advertence to the sinfulness of the judgment as well as to the fact of its being unsupported by reasonable evidence. (2) The rashness must be notable, that is, there must be a marked insufficiency of evidence. Thus it does not appear that it would be mortally sinful to take as certain something that could reasonably be considered highly probable. (3) The discreditable thing attributed to the person rashly judged must be of a serious nature, either in itself or by reason of the circumstances of the one misjudged, as when a person in a position of dignity and responsibility is rashly judged to be a habitual liar.

It is disputed among theologians whether the same malice attaches to unfounded suspicion and doubt as to rash judgment. Some argue that it does, since the Scriptures appear to make no distinction between these different acts of mind, and ill will among men is more often founded on doubt, suspicion and opinion than upon certain judgment. Others deny this and hold that suspicion and doubt do a lesser injury because, although they diminish one's good esteem for others, they do not extinguish it.

Because one is obliged to avoid rash judgment, suspicion and doubt, it does not follow that it is immoral to take prudent precautions against the possibility that another may be sinfully inclined.

Bibliography: thomas aquinas, Summa theologiae 2a2ae 60.34. alphonsus ligouri, Theologia moralis, ed. l. gaudÉ, 4v. (new ed. Rome 190512; repr. 1953) 3:962965. j. a. mchugh and c. j. callan, Moral Theology, 2 v. (New York 1930 2:5562. h. noldin, Summa theologiae moralis, rev. a. schmitt and g. heinzel, 3 v. (Innsbruck 196162) 2:576578. d. m. prÜmmer, Manuale theologiae moralis, ed. e. m. mÜnch, 3 v. (12th ed. Freiburg-Barcelona 1955) 2:179181. a. houvenin, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed., a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350).2:182832.

[p. k. meagher]