Friday, November 16, 2018

The Illogic of Rash Judgment

The Church teaches that we must respect the reputation of persons. In speaking about the sins against this obligation, she condemns rash judgment. Reflecting on this teaching, I began recalling logic and valid forms of argument. These are used to establish the truth of an argument. If the premises are true and unambiguous while the logical form is valid, then the argument is considered proven. But if the premises are false or unproven, the conclusion cannot be considered proven.

So, in terms of logic, a rash judgment claims something unproven is true to the harm of the person accused. Let’s look at how this works.

In logic, one valid form of an argument (called modus ponensis:
  • If X is true then Y is true 
  • X is true 
  • Therefore Y is true 
Explaining this...

In order to claim Y is true, the person claiming it must prove X. Otherwise, they cannot claim that Y is proven. So, using recent examples, things like “if Kavanaugh committed sexual assault then he should not sit on the Supreme Court” and “if Vigano’s accusation is true, then the Pope did wrong” are examples of this form of argument. The X to be proven in these cases are “Kavanaugh committed sexual assault” and “Vigano’s accusation is true.” If they cannot be proven then the Y of these cases (“Kavanaugh should not sit on the Supreme Court” and “the Pope did wrong”) cannot be assumed to be true.

The honest person, emulating Socrates, realizes that if they don’t know X is true, they don’t claim Y is true. They can of course investigate the claim of X and see if evidence supports it. That’s part of our obligations to speak what is true. This is where the Church teaching against rash judgment comes into play. It insists that we know X is true before we accuse a person of Y.

The Catechism says:

See how that lines up with logic. Rash judgment assumes that a person is guilty of Y without establishing that X is true. The Catechism tells us we must prove X, investigating and gathering evidence before accusing them of moral faults. Otherwise we sin against our neighbor.

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