Vision and Judgement

“I don’t know, let’s see.” – Alfred Korzybski

Gilles Deleuze has a problem with judgement. The problem is that judgement has too prominent a place in the way human beings interpret and evaluate the world.

We use judgement to make important decisions. We judge in order to decide what has value and what does not, and what should be valued more than other things.

Whatever problem you might have with judgement, it might seem impossible to dispense with it entirely, since we use it make sense of the world. To renounce judgement would be to cast aside the means for distinguishing between things in the world.

But Deleuze thinks there are other ways to determine values, and to give meaning to life.

The problem with judgement is that it really doesn’t help us decide our principles and values. Instead, it is what happens when you’ve already decided on your principles. You make judgements when you have “pre-existing criteria” to ground them on.

The problem with judgement is it stops anything new coming into being. How can you create new principles when you’ve already settled for the ones you’ve been given?

Deleuze is using this word “judgement” to refer to this limited way of thinking about the world. You accept the pre-existing conditions for judgement, the conditions you were taught as a child, and as you get older you become more adept at building arguments from these, to prove to others and to yourself of the “right” and the “wrong” of various objects, behaviours, and modes of existence.

A problem with judgement is that it is so often used against other people. If you have certain pre-existing ideas about what the world ought to be like, and you meet someone who doesn’t fit into that view, you can create brilliant arguments to prove that that person is in the wrong, and even that that person is of less value as a human being.

It is much more difficult to turn such arguments against yourself. You’ve known your “pre-existing criteria” all your life, and so you’ve had plenty of time to rationalise your own existence within them.

Judgement isn’t a useful tool for self-analysis. It is a weapon to be used against others. Us versus them: the kind of thinking that is used to justify war, prisons, and every form of self-imposed human misery.

One of the reasons we might feel we need judgement is that life is so difficult. It is a struggle. But Deleuze suggests that it is a mistake to think of life as a struggle against others, of you against the world. The real struggle is with yourself.

So you need something other than judgement if you are going to get through the struggle.

What judgement hides is the truth of the human soul: love and hate. We don’t tend to question our deepest beliefs, or ask where they came from. The root of any principle you hold is an emotional one, an instinctual relation between the body and the world – but judgement can’t drill down and examine those roots. It must start with the principles and work up.

The root of your principles is emotional: love and hate. It’s not easy to accept this. Perhaps you pretend you love everyone and everything – and yet still you, or others on your behalf, must deal out judgement and punishment. You tell yourself you don’t want it to be this way, that others must suffer, but that this is what reason dictates. You ignore the fact that there’s hatred at the root of this, and that, by accepting that others must be neglected or punished, you have willed it this way.

The alternative is to drill down and think about how you feel about things. What do you love? What do you hate?

Admitting what it is you hate is a good way to resist judgement. If you know that you hate somebody and for that reason you demand that they be made to suffer, then you are demanding something evil. You might resist making such demands, now that your real motives are visible to you.

It is a lesson that might sound paradoxical, and yet it is ancient wisdom. And it has hardly ever been tried. The lesson: look into your heart to discover what you hate, in order that you might learn compassion.

The lesson then is one of honesty with oneself. Self-knowledge is achieved not through judgement but though vision – through seeing what you, yourself, are. An individual, a body, in the world. And just as vulnerable to the weapons of judgement as every other body out there.

What then is the alternative to judgement, if decisions are to be made? If life is to have value and meaning? Perhaps it would be wisest to say, “I don’t know, let’s see,” as we begin to put the struggle for the vision of the self before the business of judging others.

(I’ve been reading Gilles Deleuze’s essay “To Have Done with Judgement,” in Essays Critical and Clinical, translated by Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco.)

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2 Responses to Vision and Judgement

  1. rickkoster says:

    I enjoyed reading this piece. I’m more of a Lacanian than an Deleuzian but I became interested when I was made aware of the historical quarrels between the camps and as a result read Lacan and Deleuze : A Disjuctive Synthesis, which in its fascinating essays showed the parallels drawn out in their work.

    Liked by 1 person

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