Fallacy: Faulty Generalization

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A faulty generalization assumes that if some members of a group are like X, then all members of a group are like X.

You can also call this fallacy, “basically every prejudice that has ever existed.”

 

Example of a faulty generalization fallacy

If you don’t believe that white men are more violent than the rest of the population, how do you explain Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, John Wayne Gacy, Ted Kaczynski, and the many white mass shooters we’ve had in recent years?

In logical form:
Premise 1: The people mentioned were all white men.
Premise 2: The people mentioned were all excessively violent.
Conclusion: White men are violent.

 

Why it’s erroneous

Some people would look at this conclusion and say that it is true. Others would look at it and say that it is not true. The problem is that the conclusion is not very specific in what the hell it means.




  • Do we mean that all white men are violent?
  • Do we mean that some white men are violent?
  • Do we mean that there are more violent people in the population “white men” than there are in other populations?
  • Do we mean that more people are killed by white men than other demographics?
  • Do we mean that more people have been killed by white men during a specific time frame than by other demographics?
  • Do we mean that more people have been killed by white men in all of history than by other demographics?
  • Do we mean that having white men around will result in more deaths in the future than having other demographics around?

A faulty generalization involves using a subsection of a group to make a generalization about the entire group, but the list above illustrates why that’s a problem.

Consider this conversation:

Elizabeth: Muslims are violent people.
Harry: That’s not true. My neighbor is a Muslim and she’s very peaceful.
Elizabeth: Don’t be stupid. I obviously didn’t mean every single Muslim is violent.

Ok. So I ask you again – what the hell did you mean? Look at that list above and tell me which of those specific conclusions you’re making and what it is you’re suggesting be done as a result and why.


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Author: A. Primate

Mammal. Organizes itself into complex social hierarchies. Very particular about objects - even those that can't be eaten or used for shelter. Seemingly aware of itself as separate from the environment.

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