Abstract: Using an array of representative examples, this essay makes the case that we inhabit a "crisis of judgment" discernible in a number of areas: the interpretive humanities, important strains of modern political thought and certain habits in the cultural reception of the sciences. The crisis takes one of two antithetical forms, on the one hand a refusal to judge, and on the other hand an overly hasty determination of judgment by externally imposed norms or algorithms designed to replace the inexact practice of judging. The crisis is not an event of the recent past but, surprisingly, has its roots in the eighteenth century. Although the cultivation of judgment is indeed a central concern of many characteristic discourses of the period, this essay shows how the practice of judgment is being elided in certain forms of sentimentalism, moral theory and aesthetic reflection. Confronted with the urgent task of restoring our capacity for autonomous judgment, we discover that no "theory" can suffice, since a non-formalizable judgment by its nature operates at the limits of theory. Only through our always singular encounters with the "anarchic" space of fiction can we find the resources we need to imagine judgment otherwise.
The Eighteenth Century – University of Pennsylvania Press
Published: Dec 4, 2010