Judging (in)competence

Within ethics and value theory we find good discussions about utility, maximization of good and minimization of harm. In John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian philosophy, specifically, Mill argues that only a person who has experienced two alternate conditions is qualified to judge one preferable over the other, often called the ‘Doctrine of Competent Judges.’

To 21st century men and women (accustomed as we are to humanistic ethics a few hundred years post-Enlightenment) this reads a bit like archaic truism. Of course we would agree that only a person who has driven both a Camry and a Prius is truly ‘competent’ to judge one superior over the other. This is not to say, of course, that every ‘competent judge’ will have the same preferences or reach the same conclusions, but they importantly have direct knowledge of that which they’re judging.

And so it is with many other opinions we express and judgements we make each day. If we have direct experience with two alternate states of being, we’re at least minimally qualified to judge one over another. Notably, this doesn’t prevent people from expressing unqualified opinions or taking a position on things they have no direct experience with.

For example, LASD public schools. 

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