The Need for Moral Judgment 720.2

In my book The Power of Character, Dr. Laura Schlessinger writes that her radio show didn’t become a success until she abandoned the nonjudgmental strategy of the traditional psychologist/family counselor and began to challenge, chastise, and encourage her listeners to think of their behavior in terms of right and wrong. Believing that we’re all obligated to discern and honor moral boundaries and ethical principles, she popularized discussion of conscience and character as personal obligations, not abstract concepts.

As a law professor, I felt a similar need to distance myself from the “Who am I to judge?” legalistic perspective taught in law school in favor of a more complex outlook that included moral judgment. Sure, clients may prefer nonjudgmental advice focusing on what works rather than what’s right and patients in counseling may prefer talking about feeling good rather than being good, but universal standards of right and wrong cannot be ignored.

The middle ground between self-righteous finger-wagging moralists who scold and condemn everyone who lives by different standards and the “whatever works for you” relativists with no moral backbone at all is found by understanding that “Your right to swing your arm ends at the tip of my nose.”

In other words, a person’s need for happiness or freedom does not justify endangering or injuring others. Thus, if the concept of character is to mean anything, we should judge and disapprove of untrustworthy, disrespectful, irresponsible, unfair, and unkind conduct.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 4

  1. This was interesting and timely for me. My husband and I are selling a home and our realtor – whom we had hired on recommendation from others – was arrested in a prostitution sting for solicitation of a prostitute. He is married and his wife is in the realty business with him (they are a “team”). We decided to terminate our contract with him (and have)- primarily based on that issue but also for what we felt was lack of effort/assertiveness in marketing our home. We had a lot of discussion ourselves and with friends about whether to bring in the issue of the solicitation arrest in our discussion with him. We ultimately did not, since we had other reasons also for terminating,but we struggled whether to since we both felt morally we could not work with him. Interested to know how others would have dealt with this.

  2. Michael, thank you for this commentary. It’s provided great food for thought. I have been struggling mightily over the past several months over how I feel about a friend who is cheating on his wife. On the one hand, I can’t know the full story of what is going on in his marriage, so I know I’m not qualified to judge him. On the other hand, I can’t help but feel that he is being terribly unfair to both his wife and his mistress. This is the first and only dishonorable thing I’ve ever seen him do. I still want to be his friend, but I also don’t want to be condoning his behavior.

  3. This article was interesting it teaches you to have the need for moral judgment in order to be a great person if you don

  4. I am happy to see this, as well, because I have also struggled with what is “taught” in college level counseling programs is so very different than what is experienced in real life. As an elementary school counselor, I am very much teaching what is right and wrong, but with a healthy recognition of what I think is wrong may not be what a parent is teaching at home. We do a LOT of qualifying – i.e., “that might be what mom and dad want for you at home, but here at school, this is not the right choice to make. I hope you can think about those choices next time and make your own best decisions.”

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