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The Value of Judging Others

From the November 2003 issue of Impact, the Ayn Rand Institute newsletter, here’s a column on the virtue of justice:

Contrary to the mores of our society, Objectivism holds that pronouncing moral judgment is crucial to man’s life. For Objectivism, justice is a virtue.

Justice is the virtue of “judging men’s character and conduct objectively and of acting accordingly, granting to each man that which he deserves.” The need to judge other men is inherent in man’s life.

“In order to achieve one’s goals in any field,” writes philosopher Leonard Peikoff, “one must choose among alternatives — which requires that one know the things around one and judge them rationally. This applies even to the humblest undertakings, such as picking out today’s wardrobe, furnishing the spare room, or selecting a spot for a picnic. It applies to one’s dealings with men, also.

“The necessity of knowledge and judgment is especially important in regard to men because the differences among them are more consequential than those among shirts, sofas, or parks. Men are beings of self-made soul; they have the faculty of volition, with everything this implies. The wrong shirt can ruin your appearance; the wrong man can kill you.”

Ayn Rand wrote: “Justice is the recognition of the fact that you cannot fake the character of men as you cannot fake the character of nature, that you must judge all men as conscientiously as you judge inanimate objects, with the same respect for truth, with the same incorruptible vision, by as pure and as rational a process of identification — every man must be judged for what he is and treated accordingly, that just as you do not pay a higher price for a rusty chunk of scrap than for a piece of shining metal, so you do not value a rotter above a hero. . . .”  (Quoted from For the New Intellectual.)

Like the other derivative virtues of the Objectivist ethics, justice is an application of rationality to a particular aspect of human life. Cognitively, justice consists in using reason to identify the facts of a man’s character and appraising him by reference to objective principles of morality. Like a juror, one must take into account all the relevant evidence and exclude any arbitrary feeling detached from the facts. In action, justice demands that one be consistent in one’s dealings with men, keeping in mind the context of their actions and character.

Leonard Peikoff also discusses the issue of justice in his lecture course, Moral Virtue, available free on Ayn Rand Institute Campus. For more Ayn Rand quotes on justice, head over to The Ayn Rand Lexicon entries on “Justice” and “Moral Judgment.”