A Look at human Judgment and reasoning



By Fr. Raymond Taouk,




I.  description of the judgment


1.    The essential aspect of judgment is the assertion or the affirmation (or negation which is an affirmation of the contradictory).  The affirmation is properly opposed to the doubt which abstains from affirming or denying anything[1]


2.    The object of affirmation. 

·      There is no empty affirmation, we always affirm stg.  Even ‘yes’ has a meaning only by reference to a question asked.

·      the affirmation is to the thing affirmed like the form to the matter.  This thing which is the object of judgment is a relation between 2 terms, 2 distinct concepts, S and P.  And the form, the affirmation of the judgment (S is P) signifies that these 2 terms are identical in reality. 

·      Thus the verb ‘to be’, the logic copula, has a double meaning : a) simply copulative, bec. it relates 2 concepts, S and P; b) existential, bec. it affirms that the relation is real.  This existential meaning is the proper of a judgment bec. in other cases (question, quote), the 2 terms are related wo affirming anything about them.  And this existential sense is found in any jdgt, including ideal like definitions and mathematical theorems.  They deal then with possible or ideal existence.

·      Conclusion : the judgment is the intellectual act which affirms as real the identity of 2 distinct concepts.


3.    Judgment is the principal act of the intellect : ‘to think is to judge’ (Kant)

·      the 2 other mental operations are perfected in the judgment.  Judgment presupposes the simple apprehension from which it draws its matter.  But we do not think of isolated concepts, even associated concepts.  We think of judgments more or less complex.  Reasoning in fact is a means to demonstrate the not so obvious truth of the conclusion, which is a judgment.

·      Judgment is the only act susceptible of reaching the truth, and since the int. is the appetite of true, it finds its perfection only in judgment.  This is true because the judgment is the only act where the minds seeks to be in conformity with the real.  On the other hand,  in sensation and affirmation, there is communion with the real; the reasoning can be ‘correct’ (rigorous) even if the premises and the ccls are false.  Only the judgment has the intention of conformation, and Ar. could define it “a discourse susceptible of being true or false”[2].



ii. judgment and concept


The priority of simple apprehension over judgment is a bone of contention betw. realism and idealism.

1.    Most moderns (Kant, Brunschvicg) affirm the priority of judgment over the concept, which would be a virtual judgment or a by-product.  The concept would be essentially the S or the P. of a judgment in preparation or termination.  This comes from the thesis that the mind is a pure spontaneity, not ruled by an object imposed from the outset.  The intellect would pose relations and the relation would engender the 2 terms (1.creative int, 2. to engender, 3. father-son).


2.    Such theory comes from idealism, which tends to divinise the human spirit, giving it the power of creating the universe.  On the psychological level we can say that :

·      in the order of exercise, it is true that the judgment precedes the concept : we think with judgments not with concepts.

·      in the order of specification, the concept precedes the judgment.  There is no relation wo previous terms.  To give a judgment wo knowledge of the terms would be to affirm blindly and to state a prejudice.


3.    The Judgment is made to perfect knowledge in a double way : [3]


·      Subjectively, it clarifies the confused cpt into its elements, or completes the inadequate concept.

·      Objectively, it brings the thought outside the subjective world into the real world ‘is’= real to reality.


iii. nature of the judgment


1.    It is not a mere association of ideas.  It is easy to confuse them, since often, the association prepares the matter and may have the same pract. applications as the judgment : “I remember, this is like...”,wo seeing the relation between the thoughts but mostly wo affirming its conformity with reality.

2.    It is not an act of the will (Vs. the voluntarists, Descartes, Malebranche, Renouvier). 


·      The error comes from stating that the int. is essentially passive while the will active, and the judgment is an act : ergo it comes from the will, esp. since we can make it suspend it.  It is easy to confuse it with a voluntary act since the will must be engaged in any judgment which is not self evident.

·      judgment is an act of the intellect., especially noticeable when the evidence forces the judgment independently from and sometimes against the will.  The voluntarist theory comes from the false thesis that the int. is totally passive, whereas it is a principle of operation, activity : the judgment is the culmination of knowledge, distinct fr will.


iv.  the causes of judgment


What is it that determines the int. to judge?  Modern psych. call it the ‘factors of belief’, factors of assent.

1.    Evidence.De facto, there are forceful evidences.  Division : immediate evidence (sense experience, first principles per se notae); mediate evid. (obtained by demonstration, the ccls shares in the evid.of prems)

2.    The will

·      it must always intervene to oblige us to think (of a self evdt principle), and to avoid possible objections (the h. mind is subtle enough to find objections to the clearest truths).

·      it intervenes when there is no extrinsic evidence (e.p. objecti).  This happens for knowledge based on the testimony of another (which is never the same as experiencing the evidence oneself) : i.e. all historical knowl, geography, science (in many cases, we rely on the testimony of the learned and teachers).

·      Stms the will makes up for any int. motive : we affirm wo any evidence, intrinsic or extrinsic, simply bec. I want this to be as it is, pure fanaticism, to deny God because I want to live a licentious life.

3.    Affectivity.  Sentiments, passions and interest can affect or command the judgment.  The passion e.g. may direct the attention, and govern our will to affirm what suits the passion of the moment.

4.    The praxis.  Blondel in L’Action (1893) ‘qui facit veritatem venit ad lucem’.  “If we don’t live as we believe, we end up believing as we live” (Chesterton).  This is due to the exigencies of unity of the human conscience, which cannot remain always interiorily divided, and the vicious man will soon find good reasons to justify his behavior before others and before himself.  Invertedly, by living accdg to the demands of truth not clearly known, the truth becomes clear and begets a profound conviction.


v.  the act of faith[4]


1.    It is a judgment. It is very import to clarify the act of faith for the spiritual life.  Faith is not an affective sentiment, it is a judgment of the intellect.  The act of faith is an assent to a truth revealed, and as any judgment, the affirmation of a relation between 2 ideas considered ad true i.e. real, e.g. “God is”,  “Jesus Christ is God[5].  Thus no invocation, piety, prayer enters as such the act of faith although they naturally follow it.  We can make an act of faith without  piety and even wo charity.


2.    It is a reasonable judgment, and not a blind ‘jump into the absurd’ as said Kierkegaard, echoing Luther.

·      faith is negatively reasonable, since its object is not intrinsically contradictory.

·      It is positively reasonable since there are “motives of credibility”, shown by the apologist, whereby the believer brings to his attention his reasons for believing[6].  They boil down to the testimony of the Ap. and the CC, as witnesses of God’s word ‘propter auctorit. Dei revevltis” (Dz 1789)


3.    It is obscure.  Faith bears on mysteries not demonstrable nor understandable, else it would be science.  Certain dogmas are demonstrable by reason (while demonstrating it, we lose faith in God’s existence).


4.    It is a free act.  We see we must believe (bec. of motives of credblt), we believe freely (bec. not evident),and thus meritoriously.  The will intervenes not only to draw the attention but also to directly ‘imperare’ the judgment and determines the propositions it must admit (De Virt in comm. a7). 


5.    Faith as a habitus cannot be discerned, except in the facility of producing acts. Doubts are an integral part and as such do not endanger of virtue of faith : the questions re. the contents are cause of a theological research (fides quaerens intellectum), the objections re. the truths of faith only reveal that they are not evident nor demonstrable.  The CC denies that there be reasonable objection to refuse the assent.


The Act of Reasoning


I.  the inference


Logic does treat not so much the judgment than the proposition, nor the reasoning itself than the argument


1.    In psychology, inference is the mental act of reasoning. 

·      It appears at first sight as a succession of judgments, a discursus.  But this is not the essence of reasoning :  e.g. a discourse can be the fruit of the spontaneous thought ‘it’s pretty, I am cold and hungry’, or of history ‘veni, vidi, vici’. 

·      Reasoning demands that these judgments be interdependent, which dependence called logical is objective since it comes from the judgments themselves and not from the dispositions of the subject.  This inference is expressed by the conjonctions : but, for, then etc.

·      Thus the act of reasoning is not to posit judgements nor to pass from one to another but to order them in such a way that they follow either necessarily or at least with a certain dependence.  Strictly speaking, the reasoning can be correct and false.  Yet the reasoner wants to demonstrate a truth.


2.    Reasoning is ordered to the conclusion. 

·       we don’t argue for the sake of argument but to demonstrate the truth.  The conclusion is known beforehand since we rarely reason wo the intention of demonstrating, but its truth which was only probable becomes evident. Reasoning verifies the dependence of the certain judgments to draw a conclusion which will participate in their evidence. 

·      Therefore, it would be absurd to try to demonstrate everything.  The demonstration presupposes evident principles, which rarely explicited, are necessarily implied in the argument.  E.g. the typical reasoning of Maths, A = B, B = C, hence A = C supposes the principle that : two quantities which equal a third are also equal.


ii.  the sense of the term reason


1.    Etymological sense : reor : to believe, to think, to calculate.  Ratus : fixed, assured.  Ratio : account, reasoning, justification.

2.    Objective sense : the relation of a thing w another, a proportion between 2 terms (in Maths, the reason of a progression), the aspect of a thing (ratio entis is the being of a thing formally said), a principle of explanation, like the cause, ratio essendi, ratio cognoscendi.

3.    Subjective sense, and most common one which is of greater interest :

·      natural knowledge including all faculties, int. and senses, as opposed to faith.

·      the faculty of judging correctly, the common sense, when we speak of one having good judgment.

·      the faculty of the absolute being, as opposed to sensation which deals with phenomena and understanding which deals with scientific truths.  This is the Kantian sense of ‘reason’ (for him unable to know its absolute object).

·      strictly, the faculty of reasoning, the ‘discursive’ habit of the intellect as opposed to intellectus, habit which comprehends the essence intuitively (Thomistic sense of ratio).

·      extensively, the faculty which grasps the first self evident principles, which intuitive function is called intellectus principiorum, as opposed to experience  and to discursive reason.


iii. nature of reason


1.    Between intelligence (intellectus) and reason (ratio), there is not a diff. of faculties, but only of repose and motion, of perfect and imperfect, of intuition of truth or of discurring to reach the truth.  They  have the same formal object, truth, reached by diverse modes of activity.  Reason, by the fact that it is discursive, is the sign of man’s imperfection, who cannot grasp the entire truth in one glance, but it is also the instrument of progress.


2.    Reason is divided into parts according to the objects it reaches :

·      Intellectus speculativus (knowledge for its own sake).  Int. practicus is a knowledge for the sake of action (applied sc, art, moral life esp. prudence).  Its object is bonum sub ratio veri (non ut appetibile)

·      S. Aug. distinguished the superior and inf. reason according as it reached tgs eternal or temporal (equivalent to the distinction of habits, not of faculties, of wisdom and science).

·      Reason needs to receive its self-evident pples from an intuitive habit, intellectus principiorum, which conceives the ncss relation of terms.  For pract. pples (bonum faciendum), it is synderesis


[1]Together with doubt, we can add mental attitudes which bear no affirmation, like the interrogation, prayer and even command.

[2]I 16,2; de Veritate 1, 3.

[3]I 85,5.

[4] Although the act of faith is essentially supernatural, grace does not normally intervene in the nat. functioning of the mind.  Thus we analyse the act of faith under the natural aspect, abstracting from the sn element (without denying it).

[5]We need not say “I believe...” since the affirmation “God is” is an act of faith bec. of its content.

[6]Apologetics is a part of theology, and is not meant to convert unbelievers, except per accidens, work far above it.