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Hasty Generalization
Philosophy 203: Scientific Reasoning
Hasty Generalization

 Abstract:  Converse Accident or hasty generalization is the fallacy of drawing a general conclusion based on one or several atypical instances.

I.  Converse Accident: (hasty generalization) the fallacy of considering certain exceptional cases and generalizing to a rule that fits them alone. Note that the fallacy of converse accident is the opposite of accident.

  1. Thus, a general statement is made on the basis of insufficient evidence or on the basis of only a few examples.

    1. E.g., "Wow!  Did you see that teenager run that red light?  Teenage drivers are really pathetic."

    2. E.g., The following argument is raised to oppose the view that boys have greater inherent mathematical ability. "When I was four, my father taught me the beauty of numbers, and I have excelled in mathematics ever since.  My conclusion?  The males who grew up with a high aptitude for math are not spending enough time with their daughters."  Nancy Whelan Reese, "Letters," Time, (Vol. 117, No. 1), 6.

  2. The generalization is sometimes made on the basis of carelessly selected evidence

    1. E.g., "I interviewed ten people on Main Street in Greenwood on Friday night, and they all stated they would rather be there than watching TV.  I conclude that the folks in Greenwood don't like to watch TV on Friday night."

    2. E.g., "As I drove to school this morning, not one car which was turning had its turn signal on.  Thus, I conclude that drivers in South Carolina are not trained to drive very well."

    3. E.g., "The induction problem forever haunts us.  How many instances of a class must be observed before one can be really sure?  Having experience two uncoordinated woman-drivers, am I justified in making a generalization about woman-drivers?  (For too many man, a sampling of two seems to justify such a generalization.  Women, of course, never make this sort of error.)" James L. Christian, Philosophy (HBJ College, 1998).

II. The informal structure of accident is as follows.

Statement p is true in circumstances x.
Statement p is true in more general circumstances y or is always true.

III.  As a quick check of your understanding of the fallacies of accident and converse accident, evaluate the following passages.

  1. "Former Brooklyn Dodger Joe Black, speaking in Clinton, helped put the drug situation in professional athletics in better perspective.  The former pitcher, a black man, said he has no sympathy for the argument that pressures of the professional athlete's lifestyle can lead to drug abuse.  'There are no pressures in professional sports that make you use drugs or booze.  Jackie Robinson didn't use drugs. Willie Mays didn't use drugs. I didn't use drugs. That's a cop out,' Black said." Index Journal (08.08.82).

  2. All persons admitted to Lander University must abide by its policies;  Therefore you must abide by the parking rules."

  3. The USDA policies for farmers are worthless.  Why I know a guy who collects thousands of dollars for not planting wheat and spends his spare time at the race track.


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