An argument by generalization is one that is constructed by converting particular cases into general cases. In other words, a fact is attributed to the entire population that shares some characteristics in common, even if it only affects a portion of them.
Like other forms of argumentation, the argument by generalization is also very common. Through its use, it seeks to explain or argue about a specific topic, associating it with particular facts that are taken as the norm.
For example, if we have invested in the stock market in three different periods of time and we have always lost our capital due to bad decisions, it is generalized if we say that investing in the stock market is completely inadvisable, since we have always lost our money. Thus, we are standardizing a specific case, which is our own experience.
This type of argumentation is very common in politics. It facilitates the composition of the speech, requires less sacrifice and penetrates the receivers very well. Even more common if we talk about populist parties and discourses, whose simplistic generalizations seek to appeal to the sentiments of the voters and mobilize the largest possible number of voters.
For example, when a far-right party claims that all foreigners steal in Spain. This seems more efficient and simple than searching and extracting statistics and differentiating the theft cases. The same happens when the extreme left proclaims that employers exploit their workers. Yes, there will be a company that does not grant its employees the necessary conditions, but this does not mean that it should be generalized.
Argument by generalization problem
Due to what has been described above, it is very easy to fall into the fallacy by generalization hasty, which occurs when the argument by generalization does not fit reality. But this is not always the case either, there are generalizations that are acceptable.
This happens when the idea or thesis of our argumentation occurs in a majority of cases, the broader the majority, the more force our argument will have. For example, we argue that students from institute X go to university at the end of their studies, if 90% of the students do so, the generalization will be stronger and more faithful than if it occurs in 60% of the cases. At this point, the complicated thing seems to determine what the percentage that supports a generalization so that it is acceptable or, on the contrary, becomes a fallacious argument.
Construction of an argument by generalization
The construction of an argument by generalization is very simple, the following steps must be followed:
- Identify the issue on which we want to argue. It can be premeditated or arise spontaneously in a debate or conversation.
- Find the thesis or idea that we want to support.
- Find those patterns that predominate over the others, these would be the premises.
- Establish the conclusion through the analysis of the premises.
Examples of arguments by generalization
To better understand the construction and understand how the arguments are by generalization, we are going to see some examples. The first on the COVID situation in Spain:
- We are in an informal family talk and the topic of how to treat those possible affected by COVID arises.
- We are sure that it is done by telematic means.
- We consulted the CIS barometer and we see that 94% of those diagnosed were attended by telephone.
- Therefore, we argue in a general way that those diagnosed with coronavirus were treated by telematic means (since it occurred in 94% of the cases).
Another example: “The African population is black skinned”, this would also be an argument by generalization. Since we attribute a certain characteristic to the population of a certain territory as a whole.
Another generalization: “In Spain the PSOE or PP always govern”, is also an argument for generalization. It is also true, since except for the brief period in which the UCD ruled, since 1982, the other two parties have always alternated in government.
Another argument for generalization: “Basketball players are tall”, the characteristic of great height is attributed to basketball players. The average NBA player exceeds two meters in height.