Father Dominic Legge deliver a lecture entitled “Judging the Truth- Law and Moral Rel­a­tivism.” Brooke Conrad | Col­legian

“Thou shalt not judge” has become the “first and greatest com­mandment” of con­tem­porary culture, according to the Rev. Dominic Legge, who delivered a lecture in Phillips audi­torium on Thursday, hosted by The Fed­er­alist Society.

“It may be the only com­mandment on some cam­puses — surely not Hillsdale College’s campus — but on many of our college cam­puses, where the great sin is to be judg­mental, and in a way, it’s the capital vice of post­modernity,” Legge said.

While working toward his bachelor’s degree at Claremont McKenna College, Legge met Matthew Spalding, who was then a graduate student and now serves as asso­ciate vice pres­ident and dean of edu­ca­tional pro­grams for Hillsdale College in Wash­ington, D.C. Legge also even­tually became friends with College Pres­ident Larry Arnn. He holds a juris doc­torate, a Ph.L., and a doc­torate in sacred the­ology, and he prac­ticed con­sti­tu­tional law for several years as a trial attorney in the civil division of the U.S. Department of Justice. He was ordained a priest in 2007 and cur­rently serves as assistant director of the Thomistic Institute and as assistant pro­fessor in sys­tematic the­ology at the Dominican House of Studies in Wash­ington D.C.

During Legge’s Thursday lecture, entitled, “Judging the Truth — Law and Moral Rel­a­tivism,” Legge explained when being judg­mental is a sin, when it is a virtue, and how this is related to the law and to con­tem­porary claims about truth, tol­erance, and moral rel­a­tivism.


He began by dis­tin­guishing between two prin­ciple acts of the mind. Simple appre­hension, on the one hand, is the act of grasping the essence of a thing, such as a dog.


“This is one of the fun­da­mental aspects of being rational, according to Aquinas,” Legge said. “It means rec­og­nizing the reality around us.”


On the other hand, what the tra­dition of Thomas Aquinas would call “judgment,” requires joining and sep­a­rating con­cepts — saying a dog is angry, for example.


Legge made two dis­tinc­tions about judg­ments: the first is that one should pri­marily judge a person by their actions, not their inten­tions, since actions are more objective.


“As private cit­izens at least, we should not presume to judge a person’s inten­tions unless we have good evi­dence to the con­trary — that’s Aquinas’s prin­ciple,” Legge said. “And if we do presume to judge a person’s inten­tions without suf­fi­cient evi­dence, this is a rash judgment. So we should prin­ci­pally judge actions.”


Legge also explained that a person’s actions do not always accu­rately reflect his inten­tions. For example, someone could take some­thing not belonging to them thinking it was his own, and that person would not deserve to be pun­ished for stealing because they were ignorant of the wrong through no fault of their own.


Legge con­cluded the lecture by returning to pol­itics and modern culture.


“Insofar as we use the lan­guage of being non-judg­mental to cam­ou­flage judg­ments about what is really good, we are impairing our ability to reason together in common about what is good for our com­munity,” Legge said. “And that is in fact what we find with the diversity police or polit­i­cally correct con­flicts we see on some con­tem­porary cam­puses. By using claims like that, they are pre­cluding an honest and open dis­cussion about what is really good for our com­munity, and, in the end, it’s a kind of power grab, and that’s the real danger.”


Assistant Pro­fessor of the­ology Jordan Wales, who attended the lecture, noted that while a lot of people espoused moral rel­a­tivism in the 90s, the ide­ology seems less prevalent today.


“I think there’s a ray of hope, because moral rel­a­tivism I think is almost passé. Now there’s a sense of moral activism rooted in a deep sense of an objective moral order,” Wales said. “Con­ser­v­a­tives and pro­gres­sives dis­agree about what the moral order is and what the moral goods are, and they may dis­agree about whether it’s pos­sible to have a con­ver­sation between identity groups about this or that. But they do agree that there is an order and that it needs to be defended, and so that’s perhaps a more hopeful sit­u­ation.”


Senior Razi Lane said he notices the “don’t judge” men­tality is par­tic­u­larly popular among mil­lenials.


“In Wash­ington D.C., I think you see some of that. In mil­lenial circles it’s really popular, espe­cially for folks from big state schools, where I think folks try to fit in a lot more,” Lane said. “Some­times men­tioning tran­scendent truth can turn on dis­agree­ments, and people would rather try to avoid con­tro­versy. The ‘you do you’ slogan that you hear a lot is emblematic of that on a broader scale.”


Freshman Ryan Lanier noted the incon­sis­tency in those who claim that one should not impose one’s morals onto others while also holding onto their own moral values.


“I have yet to meet a moral rel­a­tivist who says it’s ok to murder people,” Lanier said. “You ask them, ‘Well, why is it wrong to murder people?’ and they’re like, ‘Well, it’s just wrong.’ Even there, you’re accepting the moral truth that it’s immoral to kill people, and there has to be some­thing backing it up.”