David Preston Guest Post: Overgeneralization and the Chomsky Fallacy

Overgeneralization is a failure of inductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning is the process by which a correct general principle is arrived at based upon analysis of specific cases or data. When you hear people say: “There is a kernel of truth in that!” about some patently absurd statement or other, that’s what has happened: a failure of inductive reasoning. Overgeneralization fallacy is what makes many jokes work, particularly those that rely on ethnic or other kinds of stereotyping

In this anti-war meme, the memester has taken a claim that is probably very true about some wars – and perhaps a little bit true about a lot of wars – and reasoned that it must be absolutely true of all wars. (This reasoning can also be represented with either symbolic logic or a Venn diagram, but I’m too lazy to do that.)

Like most overgeneralization fallacies, this one can be exposed by citing a case where the premises are the same (a war was fought) but the conclusion (the war is being fought solely for profit) is demonstrably untrue. If you think about specific wars – even just those wars that have occurred AFTER the rise of transnational capitalism – many such not-for-profit wars come to mind.

I’m guessing that whoever created this meme is a fan of Noam Chomsky, because it reminds me so much of the Chomskian worldview. In the Chomskian worldview, the more you say about something, and the bigger your vocabulary, the greater your likelihood of being right.

I call this the Chomsky Fallacy.


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