Typical Stages in the Development of Judgment

Simon Fraser McLennan

LOGIC aims at investigating the general function of knowing. But knowing, it is commonly asserted, is constituted as judgment. Furthermore, there is reason to believe that judgment undergoes well-marked changes in its development. Consequently, an understanding of the judgment-function and of its epochs in development is of prime importance. In carrying through the investigation we shall endeavor, first, to state and to defend a certain presupposition with reference to the character of the judgment-function; second, to exhibit the application of this presupposition in the typical. stages of judgment.


Judgment is essentially instrumental. This is the presupposition which we must explain and make good. And we shall accomplish this by way of an analysis of judgment as meaning.

It cannot be denied that what we call knowledge is concerned with the discrimination of valid meaning. To know is to appreciate the meaning of things and the meaning of things is the same with valid meaning. Judging determines knowledge, and in the same act develops meaning. To put it otherwise, knowledge is a matter of content; content is meaning, and we have knowledge when we have meaning satisfactorily determined.) It is evident, therefore, that if we would understand the judging-function, we must first make clear to ourselves the nature and role of meaning.

Meaning is universally embodied in ideas. To know, to

(129) understand the meaning, to get ideas, are the same. Now, in ideas two factors may be distinguished. First, every idea has as its base an image or emphasized portion of experience. In some forms of ideation we are more immediately aware of the presence of images than in others, but no idea—even the most abstract—can exist apart from an ultimate base. Second, every idea is equally a function of reference and control. As reference, the idea projects in the mind's view an anticipation of experiences and of the conditions upon which these experiences depend for their realization; as control, ideas are agencies in turning anticipations into realizations.[1]

To be more specific on both points: Since the days of Galton it has been almost a commonplace in psychology that ideas are embodied in forms of imagery which vary for and in different individuals. It has been maintained, it is true, that in abstract forms of thought, imagery disappears. This objection is met in two ways. For one, words—the vehicle of many abstract ideas—involve imagery of a most pronounced type: for another, every idea, when examined closely, discloses an image, no matter how much for the time being this has been driven into obscurity by the characteristics of reference and control. Furthermore, when we examine the anticipatory aspect of ideas, the presence of imagery both with reference to outcome and to conditions is so evident that its presence will scarcely be denied.

The second point may be illustrated in several ways. In everyday life anticipation and realization are inseparable from the nature and use of ideas. " Hat " means anticipation of protection to the head and the tendency toward setting in motion the conditions appropriate to the realization

( 130) of this anticipation. The same factors are evident in the boy's definition of a knife as " something to whittle with." Again it is maintained that intelligence is an essential factor in human self-consciousness. By this is meant that human beings are universally aware in some degree of what they are about. And this awareness consists in understanding the meaning of their actions, of forecasting the outcome of various kinds of activity, of apprehending beforehand the conditions connected with determinate results. Within this sphere we speak of certain men a5 being pre-eminently intelligent, meaning that for such men outcomes are previewed and connected with their appropriate conditions far beyond the range of ordinary foresight. Finally, scientific intelligence is essentially of this kind. It aims at understanding the varying types of process which operate in nature and thus at possessing itself of information with reference to results to be expected under determinate conditions. For example, the knowledge acquired in his researches by Louis Pasteur enabled him to predict the life or death of animals inoculated with charbon virus according as they had or had not been vaccinated previously. His information, in other words, became an instrument for the control and eradication of the disease. And what is true of this case is true of all science. To the scientist ideas are "working hypotheses" and have their value only as they enable him to predict, and to control. And while it is true that the scientist usually overlooks the so-called practical value of his discoveries, it is none the less true that in due time the inventor follows the investigator. The investigator is content to construct and show the truth of his idea. The inventor assumes the truth of the investigator's work and carries his idea as a constructive principle into the complications of life. To both men "knowledge is power," although the " power" may be realized in connection with

( 131) different interests. But if this be true, ideas can no longer be regarded as copies in individual experience of some preexisting reality. They are rather instruments for transforming and directing experience, by way of constructing anticipations and the conditions appropriate to their realization. Herein also consists their truth or falsity. The true idea is reliable, carrying us from anticipation to realization; the false idea is unreliable, and fails in bringing the promised result.

Now, in the development of instruments generally, we may distinguish a rule-of-thumb or more or less unreflective stage of construction, and one entirely reflective. As to use there is the distinction of inexpert and expert control. This leads us to expect that in the thought-function also certain typical stages of construction and of control may be found. To the investigation of this point we shall next direct attention.


In its development from crude to expert forms judgment exhibits three typical stages—the impersonal, the reflective, and the intuitive. These we shall consider in order of development. But first it is to be noticed that these stages of judgment are not to be regarded as hard and fast distinctions of the kind that no indications of the higher are to be found in the lower types, but rather as working distinctions within a process of continuous development.

1. The impersonal judgment. —Ever since the days of the Greek grammarians the impersonal judgment has been considered an anomaly in logic. And the reason is not far to seek. From the time of Aristotle it has been customary to maintain that judgments, when analyzed, disclose a subject and a predicate. Logically considered, these appear to be entirely correlative, for, as Erdmann puts it,[2] "an event

(132) without a substrate, a quality without a subject, is altogether unpresentable." But there is in all languages a class of judgments, such as, I I It rains," I It snows," " Fire !" in which no directly asserted subject is discoverable. To these the name impersonal and subjectless has been given. Here then is the difficulty. If we admit that the impersonal expression involves predication, we must, in all consistency, search for a subject, while at the same time the subject refuses to disclose itself. In ancient days the orthodox logician confined his search to language and to the spoken or written proposition. The unorthodox critic maintained, in opposition to this, that a subject was provided only by warping and twisting the natural sense of the impersonal expression. And thus the matter stood until the development of modern comparative philology. It was then demonstrated beyond the possibility of doubt that the "it" (or its equivalent) of the impersonal is a purely contentless form word. Language provides no subject whatsoever. So strong, however, is the hold of tradition that the search has been renewed. Attention has been turned upon the mental processes involved, and this time with more apparent result. Although there has been no general agreement with reference to the subject, a classification of the different views may still be made. (a) The subject is universal and undetermined; (b) it is individual and more or less determined; (c) between these extremes lies almost every intermediate degree conceivable.

Ueberweg maintains that the subject of the impersonal is the actual totality of present experience. When we ask, "What rains?" we must understand a reference to our general environment, in which no special element is singled out. Sigwart, on the other hand, maintains that the subject can be construed only as the actual sense-impression. This diversity of opinion might seem to indicate that, were it not for the constraining power of theory, a subject would scarcely

(133) be thought of for the impersonal. Still it must be admitted that when we examine the impersonal expression closely we can discover a sense-impression, whether definite or indefinite, combined with an idea. This would seem to give the case to the orthodox logician, for he will at once claim the sense-impression as the subject and the idea as the predicate .of the judgment. But we must have a care. Predication is usually held to consist in a reference of predicate to subject. The factors of the judgment are, as it were, held apart. In the impersonal no such thing as this can be discovered. The meaning is so close a unity that impression and idea are entirely fused. We may analyze the expression and find them there, but by so doing we destroy the immediacy which is an essential characteristic of the impersonal. In other words, the impersonal does not analyze itself. It is entirely unconscious of its make-up. And yet it is definite and applies itself with precision: If I am in a lecture-hall and hear the fire-alarm, the thought "Fire!" which enters my mind leads to an immediate change in my conduct. I arise, move quietly out, and prepare for duty. If, on the other hand, I open the street door and the rain strikes my face, I ejaculate "Raining!" turn, reach for my umbrella, and pass out protected. In both cases I act knowingly and with meaning, but I do not analyze the movement either of thought or of action. A correlate to the unreflective impersonal judgment is found in early custom. Custom embodies social ideas and is an instrument for the determination and control of action. Individuals moved by custom know what they are about and act with precision according as custom may demand. But it is notorious that custom is direct and unreflective. It represents social instruments of control which have grown up without method and which represent the slow accretion of rule-of-thumb activities through many ages. So in the impersonal judgment we have a type of

( 134) intellectual instrument which has been brought to a high degree of precision in use, but which still retains the simplicity and certainty of an unquestioned instrument of action. For this reason, whatever complexity of elements the impersonal may present to a reflective view, it does not contain to itself. Consequently it may be best to say that to the impersonal there is neither subject, predicate, nor reference of the one to the other. These are distinctions which arise only when the instrument of action has been questioned and the mind turns back upon the meaning which it has unhesitatingly used, analyzing, investigating, constructing, laying bare the method and function of its tools. Thus arises a new and distinctive type of judgment, viz., the reflective.

2. The reflective judgment.—By the reflective judgment is to be understood that form of meaning whose structure and function have become a problem to itself. The days of naive trust and spontaneous action have gone by. Inquiry, criticism, aloofness, stay the tendency to immediate action. Meaning has grown worldly wise and demands that each situation shall explain itself and that the general principles and concrete applications of its own instruments shall be made manifest. Hence in the various forms of reflective thought we find the progressive steps in which meaning comes to full consciousness of its function in experience.

The demonstrative judgment (the simplest of the reflective type carries doubt, criticism, construction, and assertion written on the face of it. For example, in the expression, " That is hot," we do not find the directness and immediacy of response characteristic of the simpler impersonal " hot." Instead, we note a clash of tendencies, a suspension of the proposed action, a demand for and a carrying out of a reconsideration of the course of action, the emergence of a new meaning, and the consequent redirection of activities. An iron lies upon the hearth; I stretch out my hand to return it

( 135) to its place; I stop suddenly, having become conscious of signs of warmth; the thought arises in my mind, "That is hot;" I experiment and find my judgment correct; I search for a cloth, and thus protected carry out my first intention. Again, a hunter notes a movement in the thicket, quickly raises his gun, and is about to fire. Something in the movement of the object arrests him. He stops, thinking, " That is a man, perhaps." What has caught the eye has arrested his action, has become a demand, and not until the situation has become clear can the hunter determine what to do. In other words, he must reflectively assure himself what the object is before he can satisfy himself as to how he should act. Subject and predicate have arisen and have consciously played their parts in the passage from doubt to decision.

Under the heading "individual judgments" are classed such expressions as, "That ship is a man-o'-war," "Russia opposes the policy of the open door in China." In both these cases it is evident that an advance in definiteness of conception and of complexity of meaning has been made, while at the same time we recognize that the instrumental characteristics of the thought-movement remain the same. In considering the subject of the judgment we note that the stimulus presents itself partly as a determinate factor and partly as a problem—an insistent demand. The expression, " That ship is a man-o'-war," might be written, " That is a ship and of the kind man-o'-war," and it thus constitutes what Sigwart calls a " double synthesis." As used in actual judgment, however, the two are held together and constitute the statement of a single stimulus of which a certain portion is evident and a certain portion is in doubt. The working out of the difficulty is given in the predicate " is a man-o'-war," in which we at once detect the instrumental characteristics fundamental to all judgment. To illustrate: At the

(136) close of the battle of Santiago, in the Spanish-American war, smoke appeared upon the horizon revealing the presence of a strange ship. Instantly attention was directed to it, and it became a problem for action—a demand for instrumental information. Soon it was identified as a man-o'-war, and the American ships were cleared for action. Closer approach raised a further question with reference to its nationality. After some debate this also was resolved, and hostile demonstrations were abandoned.

The universal judgment is sometimes said to exhibit two distinct forms. Investigation, however, has proved this statement to be incorrect. Instances taken in themselves and apart from their character are of no logical significance. Advance is made by weighing instances and not by counting them. In short, the true universal is the hypothetical judgment, and the reason for this may be readily shown. The hypothetical judgment is essentially double-ended. On the one hand, it is a statement of the problem of action in terms of the conditions which will turn the problem into a solution. On the other hand, it is an assertion that once the conditions of action have been determined the result desired may be attained. Here we note that the judgment has come to clear consciousness of itself and of the part which it plays in experience. It has now obtained an insight into the criterion of its legitimate employment, i. e., of its truth and falsity. And this insight makes the justification of its claim almost self-evident. For, inasmuch as the hypothetical judgment says, " If such and such conditions be realized, such and such a result will be obtained," the test of the claim is made by putting the conditions into effect and watching whether the promised experience is given. And further, since it has been found that the judgment formulated as a hypothesis actually accomplishes what it promises, we must admit that the hypothetical judgment is also categorical.


These two factors cannot be separated from each other. It is true that the hypothetical judgment reduces every valid meaning to the form, " If certain conditions be realized," but it as plainly and positively asserts, " such and such results will be obtained." When we grasp the absolute correlativity of the hypothetical and categorical aspects of judgment, we realize at once the essentially instrumental character of judgment, when it comes to consciousness of its structure and function. It arises in the self-conscious realization of a problem. This it reflects upon and sizes up. When the difficulty has been apprehended, the judgment emerges as the consciousness of the conditions which will attain the desired end of action freed and unimpeded. This may be illustrated by reference to the work of Pasteur cited above. His investigations began in a problem set for him by agricultural conditions in France. A certain disease had made the profitable rearing of sheep and cattle almost an impossibility. After long and careful examination he discovered the beneficial effects of vaccination. To him the conditions which governed the presence of the disease became apparent, and this knowledge furnished him with an instrument by means of which one difficulty was removed from the path of the stock-raiser. In this illustration we have an epitome of the work accomplished everywhere by the scientist. It is his task to develop and to reduce to exact terms instruments of control for the varied activities of life. In its parts and as a whole each instrument is intelligently constructed and tested so that its make-up and function are exactly known. Because of this, reasoned belief now takes the place of unreflective trust as that was experienced in the impersonal stage of judgment. What at first hand might appear to be a loss was in reality a gain ; the breakdown of the impersonal was the first step in the development of an instrument of action conscious of its reason for being, its methods and

(138) conditions of action. These latter constitute the distinctive subject and predicate of the reflective judgment.

This brings us to the connection between the hypothetical character of this form of judgment and its universality. And this perhaps will now be quite apparent. The reflective judgment lays bare an objective connection between the conditions and outcomes of actions. It proves its point by actually constructing the event. Such being the case, universality is no more than a statement of identical results being predictable wherever like conditions are realized. If it be true that " man is mortal," then it is an identical statement to insist that, " Wherever we find men there we shall also find mortality."

And this point brings us naturally to the treatment of the disjunctive judgment: "A is either B or C or D." In the disjunctive judgment the demand is not for the construction of a reliable instrument of action, but for the resolution of a doubt as to which instrument is precisely fitted to the circumstances. In fact, the disjunctive judgment involves the identification of the practical problem. When we say of a man, " He is either very simple or very deep," we have no doubt as to our proper course of action in either case. If he is simple, then we shall do so and so; if he is deep, then another course of action follows. We can lay out alternative courses beforehand, but the point of difficulty lies here: "But just which is he?" In short, the disjunctive judgment is the demand for and the attempt at a precise diagnosis of a concrete problem. To illustrate: A patient afflicted with aphasia is brought to a physician. The fact that the trouble is aphasia may be quite evident. But what precisely is the form and seat of the aphasia? To the mind of the educated physician the problem will take on flip disjunctive form: " This is either subcortical or cortical aphasia. If subcortical, intelligence will not be impaired; if cortical, the sensor

(139) and motor tracts will be in good condition." Appropriate tests are made and the subcortical possibilities are shut out. The disjunction disappears and the judgment emerges: "This is a case of cortical aphasia. But now a new disjunction arises. It is either the sensory or motor form of cortical aphasia, and, whichever one of these, it is again one of several possibilities. As the alternatives arise, the means for discriminating them arise also; determinate symptoms are observed, and in due time the physician arrives at the final conclusion: "This is sensory cortical aphasia of the visual type." Having determined this, his method of action is assured, and he proceeds to the appropriate operation. Thus, finally, we are brought to a form of judgment aware not only of its motive, method, and justification, but also to one aware of its specific application to individual cases. Thus it would seem as though judgment had returned upon itself and had completed the determination of its sphere of action. And in one sense this is true. In the disjunctive judgment, as inclusive of the motives of the hypothetical and categorical forms, the reflective judgment would appear to have come to its limit of development. One thing, however, remains to be considered, viz., the development from crude to expert uses of intellectual instruments.

3. The intuitive judgment.—As stated above, the intuitive type of judgment depends upon efficiency in the use of Judgment. In this regard there is a great similarity between the impersonal and the intuitive judgments. Both are immediate and precise. But there is a radical and essential difference. The impersonal judgment knows nothing of the strict analysis, insight, and constructive power of the reflective judgment. The intuitive judgment, on the other hand, includes the results of reflection and brings them to their highest power. Paradoxically put, in the intuitive judgment there is so much reflection that there is no need for

(140) it at all. To the intuitive judgment there is no hesitation, no aloofness. Action is direct, but entirely self-conscious. That such a type of judgment as the intuitive exists there can be no doubt. There is all the difference in the world between the quality of consciousness of a mere layman and that of an expert, no matter what the line. The layman must size up a situation. It is a process whose parts are successive, whether much or little difficulty be experienced. For the expert situations are taken in at a glance, parts and whole are simultaneous and immediate. Yet the meaning is entirely exact. The expert judgment is self-conscious to the last degree. While other individuals are thinking out what to do, the expert has it, sees the advantage, adjusts, and moves. Demand and solution jump together. How otherwise can we explain, for example, the action of an expert ball-player? Witness his rapid reactions, his instantaneous adjustments. Mistakes of opponents which would never be noticed by the average player are recognized and seized upon. On the instant the new opening is seen, the adjustment is evident, the movement made. Illustrations to the same effect could be drawn from other modes of life, e. g., music, the military life, etc. That intuitive judgments are not more common is a proof in itself of their distinctive character and value. Only in so far as we become experts in our special fields of experience and have reduced our instruments of action to precise control, can we expect the presence of intuitive judgments. They remain, therefore, as the final outcome of the judgment-function made perfect in its technique and use.

In conclusion we shall make a brief summary of our investigation and a criticism of certain current theories of judgment. 

Judgment is essentially instrumental. Its function is to construct, justify, and refine experience into exact instruments

(141) for the direction and control of future experience through action. It exhibits itself first in the form of instruments developed unsystematically in response to the hard necessities of life. In a higher stage of development the instrumental process itself is taken into account, and systematically developed until in the methodical procedure of science the general principles of knowledge are laid bare and efficient instruments of action constructed. Finally, constant, intelligent use results in complete control, so that within certain spheres doubt and hesitancy would seem to disappear as to the character of the tools used, and remain only as a moment in determining their wisest or most appropriate employ.

The criticism indicated is based upon the instrumental character of judgment and is directed against all theories which contend that knowledge is a "copying" or "reproducing" of reality. In whatever form this "copy" theory be stated, the question inevitably arises how we can compare our ideas with reality and thus know their truth. On this theory, what we possess is ever the copy; the reality is beyond. In other words, such a theory logically carried out leads to the breakdown of knowledge. Only a theory which contains and constructs its criterion within its own specific movement can verify its constructions. Such a theory is the instrumental. Judgment constructs a situation in consciousness. The values assigned in this situation have a determining influence upon values further appreciated. The construction arrived at concerns future weal and woe. Thus gradually a sense of truth and falsity attaches to the construing of situations. One sees that he must look beyond this situation, because the way he estimates this situation is fraught with meaning beyond itself. Hence the critically reflective judgment in which hesitancy arid doubt direct themselves at the attitude, elements, and tools involved in

(142) defining and identifying the situation, instead of at the situation itself in toto. Instead of developing a complex of experience through assigning qualities and meanings to the situation as such, some one of the quales is selected, to have its significance determined. It becomes, pro tempore, the situation judged. Or the same thing takes place as regards some "idea" or value hitherto immediately fastened upon and employed. In either case we get the reflective judgment, the judgment of pure relationship as distinct from the constructive judgment. But the judgment of relation, employing the copula to refer a specified predicate to a specified object, is after all only for the sake of controlling some immediate judgment of constructive experience. It realizes itself in forming the confident habit of prompt and precise mental adjustment to individualized situations.


  1. It is worth considering whether this may not hr the reality of Royce's distinction between outer and inner meaning. An anticipation of experience is the working prerequisite of the control which will realize the idea, i.e., the experience anticipated. One is no more "inner" or "outer" than the other.
  2. Logik, p. 304.

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