Included within the detritus of useless and misleading aphoristic statements is one which richly deserves special notice; in addition to being patently false, literally and effectively, it negates itself. The time worn statement is “All generalizations are false.” Have you heard or read it? How many times?

The statement is demonstrably wrong. In fact there is an almost infinite number of generalizations which are true and useful. The statement’s reductive and misleading nature would certainly suffice to relegate it to the proverbial dust bin. But the evident and profound arrogance evidenced by this statement, resides in the fact that the declarer has not tested it in every (“all”) application.  Even more fatal, it would appear that the statement is self-contradictory since It, itself, is undeniably, a generalization and (by the operation of its own universal rule) necessarily false.

A suggested working definition of “generalization” is: the wide-spread, universal application of the result of limited experience, or the universal application of a particular principle; it is induction on steroids.

Yet when properly used, generalization is an essential tool in man’s development and existence.

Mankind’s development and progress has always been built upon prior achievements and cumulative knowledge. For example, the empirical lesson that metallic spear- heads are more effective in hunting for food than stone spear- heads was discovered and passed on. Whoever was resistant to learn from better developing experience could not thereafter compete and survive. These practical lessons, by their nature, were inherited and applied by means of the use of generalization. There would be no civilization as we know it, if each new generation had to start from scratch with a blank mind (“tabula rasa”).

From their earliest beginnings, scientific and medical research and knowledge have proceeded on the shoulders of past discovery and achievement. The general assumption of man’s social contract with society and his desire to live in peace with others was and is the basis for code and laws. The need for a   societal consensus and understanding of physical and mental health, behaviors, safety and recipes for survival, are all principles learned from empirical experience and passed on as general rules. In business, climate study, engineering, cooking, and virtually every category of experience, acquired experience and development proceeds from previously learned general principles.

Yet, while the utility of generalization is vast and ubiquitous, ethical precepts, morality, accuracy and decency, require that the concept be strongly discouraged in application to humanity. In regard to the valuation of religion, ethnos, nationality, culture and the like, generalizations are too often subjective, wrong and harmful. An examination of the history of Victorian England, as just one of a myriad of historical examples, recalls the credo of “White Man’s Burden” i.e., to allegedly improve the life of lesser industrialized (“civilized) peoples by the export of EuropeanCulture (read Rudyard Kipling for a literary example).This, of course, was arrogant, stupid ethnocentricity; we all know how that worked out. Such horrors, Tutsi v. Tutu, Shia v, Sunni, Indians v. Pakistanis, Gentile v. Jew are just a few examples of the evil misuse of generalization with regard to groups of people. However when appropriately used, generalization is a significantly valuable tool. {Or, do I generalize?}


Published by


Retired from the practice of law'; former Editor in Chief of Law Review; Phi Beta Kappa; Poet. Essayist Literature Student and enthusiast.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s