We are More Likely to be Mistaken in our Generalizations Than in our Particular Observations Essay
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Most of the time “the above title is true” even though there are some exceptions. Exceptions can easily blow up a generalization if it doesn’t apply in all circumstances. It depends, as a result, on what we are talking about and in what way of knowing we are focusing on. There are ways of knowing where generalizations do exist and information is more accurate such as in statistics or the natural sciences. However, we can never be 100% sure that what we feel, see or believe is accepted as true from everyone.
Therefore, I believe that most of the time “this statement applies to reality and as a consequence I agree”. Let’s see an everyday example in order to verify such a statement.
As I was reading a newspaper the other day, my eye caught an article about AIDS and how it has expanded throughout Africa. It said that the reporter of the article traveled to most of the countries in Africa, searching for people who had AIDS in order to prove his thesis which was that nowadays, Africa is being destroyed by AIDS and that many people living in Africa have AIDS. The journalist made a lot of research covering a lot of countries in Africa such as Uganda and Nigeria. He found that a big percentage of the population had, except from a lot and different diseases, AIDS which was in its majority. The whole research was a very difficult situation, as it was written in his article, and that he managed to do whatever he could in order to confirm that indeed Africa is being destroyed by AIDS and its effects. AIDS or HIV as it is the official virus name, loose the immune system of a person therefore when a person is affected by such a virus then little by little his immune system breaks down and even by a little cold this man can die. The journalist generalized based on the research he had made, which was significant, but his generalization can have mistakes therefore the generalization made to be mistaken. This can happen if the journalist had numbered wrong the people affected by AIDS as he do not give in his article any values of his research. Also it could be easily considered that his thesis could not apply in all circumstances as far as the destruction of Africa by AIDS is concerned. There is exceptions in such a case as there are people in Africa that uses condoms or taking contraceptive pills, so talking about AIDS taking over Africa is rather too dangerous.
An everyday example is not so accurate as other examples from other ways of knowing such as art or sciences. In school we read an extract of a poem written by Tasos Livaditis called ” The Person With The Hat” which was about a person in prison who was suffering and being tortured by people without a face. The prisoner, however, is encouraged to stay alive in such circumstances by a spider, making her web again and again as the people without faces always breaking it. The prisoner believed that he should have the same stubbornness and patience as the spider. I think that the prisoner is every individual, while the people without a face are the government that rules all individuals, and the spider is the faith we have in a better world than the one we are at the moment. However, this is only my particular observation. But, it can be easily said that such an observation could be generalized and believed that such a poem applies to every condition in our life. That doesn’t mean that I’m neither right for such a generalization nor wrong. It is just my opinion. There are always exceptions when making generalizations. As a result, this generalization is not 100% sure, as it is not known if the whole poem is about such a situation or even if that poet has the same opinion with the one already said. Art is most of the time like that, in conflict between individuals. That happens not only in poems or pictures or even drawings but in all type of art, as we never know that what we feel and interpret when observing or reading an artistic piece, is felt and interpreted the same by others. As a consequence the generalization made is neither right nor wrong. It is of course likely the generalization to be mistaken.
In the social sciences on the other hand, such as economics, generalizations are often made out of specific observations and they are not always accurate. This happens because when dealing with people it is very difficult to know how they will react or do something in the future or in the past. This year in economics we talked about a theory called Purchasing Parity Theory (PPP), which claims that, if the exchange rate is at its equilibrium value then an identical good such as a Big Mac (a beef burger of McDonalds) should cost the same in each country. The beef burger is homogenous because it is prepared with the same recipe worldwide. Therefore, if this is true then in all countries, it should have the same price. This generalization, however, is not true in all cases because there could be a country that does not have a decent agricultural supply and cannot produce in large amounts the goods that the recipe needs and, consequently, they will have to import agricultural products such as tomatoes, meet or lettice. So the price of the good (the Big Mac) is more expensive to the consumer living in Turkey than in Greece, for example. Another important reason for a difference in prices of the same good in different counties would be the power of the economy that a country has. Therefore it is mistaken to generalize that all countries will sell in the same price a good which has a fixed recipe.
In the natural sciences, for example, generalizations can be more accurate, as a specific experiment when it is done many times and the same results are achieved, using the same chemicals and apparatus, then generalizations are accurate and we get theorems and laws. This year we had done the neutralization of sodium oxide and hydrochloric acid. Using the same amount of the two chemicals, ten mols of each one, and having the same apparatus, one burette with a receptacle underneath it we did the experiment ten times. The receptacle contained the sodium oxide while the burette contained the hydrochloric acid. Every time that this experiment was done, when five molls of sodium oxide were mixed with five molls of hydrochloric acid we had neutralization. Therefore we generalized that when all these variables are kept constant the neutralization takes place. If anything changes, such as more hydrochloric acid being used the neutralization will not occur and therefore the generalization of the experiment will not be valid. In this case generalizations are more difficult to disprove as everything is observed very precisely, and chemicals, rather than people, are being observed.
Ethics is another way of knowing that the whole essay’s title applies to. Recently, there was a journalist in Nigeria who wrote an article about the Miss World Competition. It said that Mohammed would marry one of the girls from the Competition. When the article was published, many Muslims had decided, as they were angry about such an idea, to kill this journalist who they believed was a blasphemer and had no faith in God (Allah). Examples such as this make people in other countries who know very little about the Islamic religion believe that most Muslims in all Islamic countries would do the same. Generally, ethics is probably the most difficult way of knowing to generalize, as it is very difficult to support the generalization and not be mistaken. There is a big exception here, as the generalization made above not apply to all people as there are also uninformed people. For the particular generalization in this example there are people who know nothing about the incident or even more about the beliefs of Muslims or what are Muslims. Ethics has to do with the beliefs of individuals and the faith on things, and that’s the reason why it is very difficult to be right when making a generalization. It is very hard the generalization made to apply to the beliefs of all people individually.
To conclude, in most cases generalizations are mistaken because there are some factors and variables that can alter the result of the generalization and therefore the generalization made to be mistaken. We are more likely to be mistaken in some generalizations when we are not very sure of the subject or when we haven’t seen all the aspects of the matter. When we generalize we are neither always right nor wrong. It depends, actually. On the other hand, on specific observations, things are more accurate and more “handy”, as there is proof for what is said. Also a specific observation could be an opinion on a matter that nobody can deny. Alternatively mistakes are more likely to be made when generalizations take place, as there are always exceptions such as subjective subjects and uninformed opinions that can destroy a generalization made. Therefore, we are more likely to be mistaken in our generalizations than in our particular observations.