Reflective Judgment: Be Humble and Be an Adult, Already!

In reviewing some material for my new job, I ran across an overview of reflective judgment. More interesting than the overview itself, I ran across a couple of ideas in the course of exploring the overview that rocked me in a good way. It makes my guts knot up in a high-school-crush-walks-by kind of way when an idea makes me think beyond the idea itself.

If my readers are new to the topic of reflective judgment, or are interested in learning a touch more, the University of Michigan has an awesome set of links on their site which make for an interested read. Check out the material the university offers on their website here. I stumbled across this website as a result of reading the overview as well. Good stuff all around, yes?

To get back on topic (at least the topic I have in mind), I want to address the two ideas I ran across in my reading that rocked me in that good way I was talking about earlier. The first was an idea of humility, which is introduced by A. Samuel Kimball in the introduction of This Is Not a Book:

“People who think reflectively are thus in a position to be more rather than less humble about what they think they know.”

While I am familiar with the idea of reflective judgment as a more open type of thinking in which a level of uncertainty is assumed, it never occurred to me to connect reflective judgment with being “more…humble.” It makes sense, of course. To be reflective thinkers, we’re expected to step outside ourselves in what are sometimes uncomfortable ways. In a nutshell, we are forcing ourselves to consider a different set of ideas than the ones linked with our assumptions. Even if our assumptions are built on years of evidence and mounds of facts, the very act of putting that aside to think reflectively is, in essence, reflective judgment.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “humble” in this way: “Having a low estimate of one’s importance, worthiness, or merits; marked by the absence of self-assertion or self-exaltation; lowly: the opposite of proud.” Of course, there are many negative connotations attached to pride—biblical, societal, etc. In this way alone, it would seem that the strive to be “humble” would be a positive effort. There is something to be said for having a “low estimate of one’s importance,” too. If we aren’t busy placing ourselves and our ideas on a pedestal of amazing, we can open our thinking up to a different type of idea we may have never considered before.

The other idea this overview presented that I found so interesting is this little nugget of information tossed in during an explanation of non-reflective and quasi-reflective reasoning:

“Little children are not capable of reflective judgment because they cannot imagine a point of view other than their own.”

This follows with a story about a psychologist who determined children cannot begin to understand others’ point of view until approximately age four. By using dolls and hiding snacks, the psychologist was able to work out how children perceive interactions that should lead to two separate points of view. When the children hid the snacks from these inanimate dolls, it wasn’t until around age four that they began to realize that by hiding the snacks, they have a different idea of where the snacks are than the doll does. This all centers around the idea that children gain an ability called Theory of Mind (ToM) around this time, which is a “new ability…which enables the child to see that others might not know something that they think they do, that others might not know they do not know something.”

To get back to the original idea that caught my attention, the idea that “little children” cannot think reflectively because “they cannot image a point of view other than their own,” I found this potential for separating childhood and adulthood quite fascinating. Imagine defining adulthood as being able to consider others’ point of view? How many “adults” would truly be classified as “adults” if this were the determining factor?

I’m not sure I could personally be classified as an “adult” in this capacity as I still struggle with considering differing viewpoints. Much like many others in the world, I have a tendency to think I am right. It is often the case that I have not even considered the source of my information or why I began to hold a particular value or belief close to my heart. When we think about why we think certain things, we’d be wise to question exactly why we think those things. For instance, we may have been raised to believe something a certain way, having never researched the issue for ourselves or considered it may be entirely false. Even worse, we may believe something based on our own personal experiences, negative or positive, rather than taking an unbiased step back to consider what is actually going on. We all know those “negative” experiences are always going to hold more weight than the “positive” ones, too.

This overview is great at giving a basic idea of what reflective judgment means for us as thinkers:

“…we may not know what we think we do…the world is, in fact, much different from what we thought…to understand the limits of our understanding we must learn how to give up our attachments to our own points of view…sometimes we have a sense of ourselves…that is misleading.”

Even more so, though, for someone like me who has a basic understanding of the concept of reflective judgment already, the ideas of humility and adulthood in connection with reflective thinking are fascinating. If we were to take these ideas to heart, striving to be more “humble” and “adult” in our thinking, how open could we become to the actual process of reflective judgment? How much could we achieve if we applied this type of thinking in our daily lives? It is certainly something to consider openly.


“humble, adj.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2015. Web. 13 August 2015.

Introduction. (2015). In University of North Florida & Department of English Writing Program (Eds.), This Is Not a Book (pp. V-XXI). Southlake, TX: Fountainhead Press.

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