When do you draw a conclusion?

20 Jan

Hasty Generalizations

American culture grows seemingly more coarse and vitriolic.  Contributing in part to this downward trend in civility is the tendency to draw a conclusion based on too few individual cases.  This mistake in reasoning is called the Fallacy of Hasty Generalization.

Guilty as charged!  I have committed this error often because I have WANTED to generalize. As an adult who has already raised kids yet still works with adolescents in the classroom, I find that I tend to assert unfairly this and that about teens.  Often my conclusions are backed by weak reasons drawn from too few examples. Whether I pronounce judgments about their decreased interest in deep reading or their inability to converse intelligently, I am being dishonest.  It is not fair to that generation to apply an observation about some members to the entire cohort!

As one who easily falls into this lazy way of thinking, I notice the same tendency in others to demonize others. Just who are these groups generalized about and often cast in a negative light?  A few examples are:

  • Muslims
  • the government
  • evangelical Christians
  • socially-liberal democrats
  • small-government republicans
  • corporations or ‘Big Business’
  • ‘climate change deniers’
  • ‘big agriculture’
  • the pharmaceutical industry
  • immigrants, both legal and illegal
  • welfare recipients
  • different ethnicities

Well what do we do to be a fair-minded and honest Logical Joes or Janes?

A simple change of ‘quantifier’.  Instead of broadcasting with a universal,

  • ALL conservative Christians are intolerant or 
  • ALL welfare recipients are lazy

(which is NOT true), one should instead employ,

  • SOME evangelical Christians are intolerant
  • SOME welfare recipients are lazy

Personal sample experience can never be complete.  We are in effect lying when we infer inductively from too few examples to the whole.

So for 2016, let’s challenge ourselves to refrain from adding to the social media hostility and accurately communicate with our pens, mouths, photos and keyboard or finger strokes. We can only control our actions, but others might notice and voluntarily restrain their tendency to exaggerate.

What about the appropriate time or occasion to draw a conclusion?  I’ll throw out that my only source for absolute truth, which is the Bible or God’s Word.  For an example of a certain truth that pertains to ALL people, here’s a paraphrased Biblical conclusion. The One who created every molecule in the universe, alone is capable of formulating a 100% accurate assessment:

All have sinned by exchanging and turning their back on God’s glory for the meager and far lesser satisfying glory of created things.

Now that’s a true and safe conclusion!

 

 

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