Tag Archives: Hasty Generalization

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!



Who’s allowed to make General Statements? It’s Fallacy Friday!

26 Jul


Mary Kaye women always wear pink!

Women from Dallas have big hair!

When I was growing up, my dad forbade me to make ‘general statements’ by disclaiming, “Maria – you are not a general, yet!”

It wasn’t until I was teaching logic that I realized other reasons for avoiding big broad, unsubstantiated pronouncements that were not backed up by enough data!

Welcome, again, to Fallacy Friday!  This is the day when we examine more examples of faulty reasoning.  Fallacies are shortcuts undertaken by either ignorant, lazy or devious people to convince you of the truth of their assertion!  But beware.

I just spent a week in Dallas, practicing new techniques in teaching second language acquisition.  Our group shared the hotel with 3 batches of Mary Kaye sales consultants, one after another.  In the elevators, in the restrooms, in the hallways bounced, minced & chattered well-coiffed, flawlessly made- up women, bedecked with sales awards.  

And no, contrary to my pre-conceived idea, Mary Kaye women DO NOT all wear pink.   That is a Sweeping Generalization.

All Mary Kaye women I have seen wear pink

Here are some Mary Kaye women

Therefore, they will be wearing pink

The problem is that the MK women I have experienced are too small a population size for me to come to my conclusion.  Hence I have just made a Sweeping Generalization.


Now about my second pronouncement about hair – a true Hasty Generalization:  I’ve actually only met ONE woman from Texas who had big hair, Beth Moore.  I think what compounded my idea was that some people make fun of Texan women by talking about their hair.  For me to conclude, from ONE data point + hearsay, that all women from Texas have big hair is even worse than my Mary Kaye pre-conceived idea!  

So what do we do with those traditional sayings that get passed along?  Is there NO truth in them?

Just be more specific.  Instead of claiming “ALL this or that”….or even worse…. leaving off a quantifier altogether – (i.e. claiming “Mary Kaye women….Texan women….without the words – all/some/no/some…not), BE SPECIFIC and use that honest 4-letter word “SOME”.

Consider these assertions that are MORE honest if they can be backed up by at least one example:

  • ·         Some capitalists are dishonest.
  • ·         Some conservatives are not compassionate.
  • ·         Some liberals resort to name-calling.
  • ·         Some teens talk back to their parents.
  • ·         Some mothers-in-laws criticize constantly.
  • ·         Some Americans are not fat.

Your HW for the coming week is this – try practicing awareness of your own thoughts or speech:

          What Sweeping or Hasty Generalizations do you tend to make routinely?