More on generalisations

As we noted in Chapter 1, only hard generalisations can rightly be conveyed by using a quantifier-word like 'all', 'no', or 'every'. Indeed, that is the usual function of those words - to make it perfectly explicit that a hard generalisation is what is intended. For example someone at a meeting of Parliament might say, 'Every single MP in this chamber takes bribes', rather than 'The MPs in this chamber take bribes'. Soft generalisations, indeed, are very often expressed without any quantifier at all, as in 'Children like sweeties'. Other times, we add a quantifier such as 'most', or 'almost all' to a soft generalisation, in order to make it clear that a soft generalisation is what is intended, and also to make it clear just how soft (or how close to being hard) it is meant to be.

Since there is often confusion over the difference between hard and soft generalisations, we should, when reconstructing arguments, always make it clear whether a generalisation is hard or soft (the one exception to this is the case of causal statements; this will be discussed near the end of this chapter). The confusion most often arises when the generalisation, as stated, lacks an explicit quantifier. The intended quantifier is merely implicit, so there is room for misinterpretation. A generalisation in which the quantifier is merely implicit, then, is actually a kind of ambiguity. The way to alleviate the ambiguity is to add an explicit quantifier. All generalisations in reconstructed arguments should contain explicit quantifiers.

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  • Pertti
    What is soft generalisation?
    2 years ago

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