In my posts over the past year, I have examined the law and ethics of judging others' personalities in the media. My columns have included an examination of the Fact Magazine libel trial (that is: Goldwater v. Ginzburg and its related countersuits), reviews of the ethical statements of the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, and Society of Professional Journalists, and commentaries on those professional codes by those who agree and disagree with them.

In the next few weeks, I will be examining a model of the key areas involved in judging another person ethically (with special considerations of judging people in the media).  My purpose is not to create a new ethical code, but to draw out some of the key points from the material I have reviewed and to use those points to summarize the qualities of more-or-less constructive judgments of personality.

As I went over the ethics codes and other materials, I identified several basic areas of concern that came up over and over again.  The areas included such issues as the expertise of the person carrying out the judgment ("the judge"), the circumstances of the person being evaluated ("the target"), the relationship between the judge and target, the audience that will receive the judgments, how the judgment is expressed, and the like.

In the diagram below, I have sketched these aspects of the judgment process, each one connected with an arrow to the overall judgment.

The central purpose of the model is to indicate those concerns that most centrallly "make up" the ethics of judging.  I will use the concerns from the diagram as a guide to a discussion in the coming weeks of what makes a constructive judgment of a person.  

In those upcoming posts, I will examine some key points drawn from my previous reviews of the ethics of judging people, on a topic-by-topic basis, considering, for example, who might be a good judge, how the relationship between the judge and target might impact the judgment, and similar issues. 

I am writing in terms of how a professional mental health expert might talk about a public figure and when (and how) that might be done, if at all.  Although that is my focus, I believe that at least some of the issues I will outline might benefit anyone who is thinking about judging another person.


Copyright © 2010 by John D. Mayer

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