Yesterday I talked about the subject of generalizations. And, I also mentioned the fallacy of a faulty generalization, also called a hasty generalization. Let me remind you of what I quoted yesterday:
Hasty generalization is a logical fallacy of faulty generalization by reaching an inductive generalization based on insufficient evidence — essentially making a hasty conclusion without considering all of the variables. … Hasty generalization can also be a basis for racist beliefs and prejudices, in which inferences regarding a large group is based upon knowledge of only a small sample size of that group.
The wording of that last sentence is strong, but true. The problem with that last sentence is that it is itself a bit narrow. I would prefer to say that a hasty generalization, in its broadest sense, often leads to a stereotype. Not all stereotypes are toxic. What do I mean? Well, racism is an example of a toxic stereotype. But, not all stereotypes are necessarily toxic. Some can be misleading, but essentially harmless. For instance, there is the popular stereotype that white men cannot really dance well. It is obviously not true if you think about it, but everyone tends to laugh about it. I do not really know white men who are going around upset about that cute stereotype or leading protests against that stereotype. It does not appear to be harming anyone, nor have I heard of a white man claiming discrimination over that stereotype. But, it is a stereotype and not true! The opposite of that is that Latin men are great dancers. As a Latino, I would love for that one to be true, but sadly it is not.
Nevertheless, it is a good practice to learn to spot the difference between a generalization and a hasty generalization. Remember what I pointed out yesterday when I quoted a couple of definitions of what generalizations are. Generalizations are actually good and necessary, in social studies, in history, in science, etc. Generalizations come from inductive reasoning and allow things like hypotheses to be formulated. Generalizations are actually necessary in this world because we are not omniscient. But, sometimes we get in a hurry, or simply get lazy in our reasoning. That is when a hasty generalization is developed. It is no longer inductive reasoning, but faulty reasoning.
Now, to return to the quote above, there is a further danger, and that is the danger that a hasty generalization may devolve into a stereotype that is toxic. A toxic stereotype is almost always based on some type of reasonable-sounding argument that enables the person to deceive himself/herself that they are not engaging in a prejudice but simply reaching a logical conclusion. That is actually prevalent today over various subject matters. The opposite danger is equally prevalent today, and that is the danger of accusing someone of using a hasty generalization in order to not have to logical rebut their argument. That is called an argumentum ad hominem, that is, an argument against the man. Rather than deconstructing someone’s argument to show how it is illogical, the person is attacked rather than the argument. One of the forms of attack is to simply claim that they are engaging in hasty generalization.
Regardless, it is important for Christians to learn to be rigorous in their arguments and to avoid the perils of either a hasty generalization or arguments against people rather than against their claims. We need to deal with Truth in a rigorous manner while at the same time admitting that we are not omniscient and that, therefore, many of our arguments and/or conclusions may very well contain necessary generalizations. Generalizations are part of our life, let’s learn to handle them correctly and formulate them appropriately.