Archive for August, 2020

To generalise or not to generalise

August 13, 2020

—Nasir Khan

“An idea is always a generalization, and generalization is a property of thinking. To generalize means to think.”

— German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831)

Hegel is spot-on the interrelationship of thinking and generalising. We all think about various things in our daily lives. Out from our observations and experiences, we also draw some general conclusions or generalise that is more of an evaluative process.

We also meet people who hold an opinion or view to be only a ‘generalisation’; therefore, by calling it a generalisation what they imply is that it should be cast aside as ‘non-factual’ or ‘illusory’. However, that’s a simplistic view. On the contrary, in the hands of thinkers and critical observers, their views are based on empirical data and a rational analysis of such data. As a result, for them to offer generalisations is an essential part of communicating some facts that are part of a cognitive process. Thus by generalising, a specific instance is extended to cover a wider range of similar cases.

No wonder, all thinkers and mentally mature people generalise. That helps us to see their views as sound and verifiable. But all generalisations do not meet this criterion. By adducing evidence, we can show the erroneous assumptions on which such generalised views may be based.

For instance, we have seen that whenever the US rulers have invaded any country, they have killed very many innocent people and caused much damage as they did in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. etc. From these instances, we as observers of international events conclude that US militarism is dangerous and murderous. That is our generalisation about the US militarists. But if they stop doing what they have been doing for so long, we may change our generalised view about them. However, the prospects of any such change in American policies seem remote.

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