Unreasoned Induction
The failure to understand logic is a major cause of violence.
July 10, 2016
Fred Foldvary, Ph.D.

Induction is the formation of generalities from specific examples. Human beings are genetically programmed to generalize. Many animals, perhaps all, have an instinct for inductive behavior. After being stung by a few bees, one learns to avoid irritating bees. Inductive reasoning has survival value.

The problem is that induction becomes a substitute rather than a vehicle for reasoning. This is how bias, prejudice, and bigotry arise. Some parents teach prejudice to their children, perpetuating racism, religious intolerance, and other biases. The children then grow up with this prejudice because most do not question their overgeneralized beliefs.

Overgeneralization is the logical fallacy of concluding a general proposition about a phenomenon from a unrepresentative sample, often because the sample is too small. This includes the “pars pro toto” (the whole for a part) fallacy of incorrectly applying a few examples to all cases. The violent episodes that have taken place are the results of generalization. People observe a few police officers using excessive force and killing unarmed suspects, and conclude that all police are evil. They learn that some people of a particular religion are terrorists, and so they condemn the religion and all its members.

The way to minimize this unreasoned induction is to teach children how to think clearly. Parents often fail to do this, since they themselves overgeneralize. Ideally, schools should teach logic and the fallacies of logic. While human beings are programmed to use induction, we can learn to use it properly. Scientific induction uses samples that are representative of a population, and then recognizes that the conclusion is a matter of probability. A video of a person of a particular group doing something bad is an extremely unrepresentative sample, because the media does not show the great majority of that group being peaceful.

Education in logic also needs to confront the craziness of supremacist reactions. A supremacist thinks he is superior to other persons, often due to belong to a superior group, and so he thinks this endows him with justified powers to judge and punish. The supremacist sees in the media a police officer kill an unarmed man. In anger he, believing he is superior and authorized to take action, takes a gun and kills some random policeman. The murderer has not only overgeneralized, but also committed the same crime that he is upset about. Thinking he is a superior being, he believes he is morally authorised to judge and punish.

Therefore, education in logic has to include proposition of human equality. While a person may have more intelligence, strength, or beauty than others, we are all equal in moral worth. One may believe his religion to be the correct one, but that does not endow the believer with moral supremacy.

Education in logic needs a third element: the value of the rule of law. The mob that crashes into a prison and murders a truly guilty man has defied the rule of law. Civilization has crafted a method of handling criminals and other wrong-doers with systems of law, trials, and punishment. Many hundreds of years of the evolution of common law and legislation have created institutions such as trial by jury in order to have a consistent and equal process of handling bad behavior. The supremacists who commit violence are guilty of overgeneralizing and supremacizing as well as usurping the rule of law.

A major problem of teaching moral logic is that government itself does not follow these principles. Some police departments have practiced racial supremacism in their law enforcement. The prohibition of the peaceful use of marijuana is based on the supremacist belief that the government chiefs have a superior belief that is imposed on the marijuana users. The drug prohibitions put the police on the frontlines of the government’s war against the people. As another example, the taxes and excessive restrictions imposed by government on employment destroy job opportunities to persons at the margins, who are unable or unwilling to obtain legal employment, so they operate in the informal economy and then clash with the authorities.

Education in moral logic loses credibility when government itself practices supremacist overgeneralization, and the rule of law becomes tainted when judges and juries are themselves also supremacist.

The problem of unreasoned induction has deep origins in the culture, as it inflicts the great majority of persons. But we have to start somewhere, and, however problematic, it would be wise to include lessons in logic throughout the educational system, teaching not once but often, the fallacies of overgeneralization, supremacism, and legal usurpationaism.

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Fred Foldvary, Ph.D.

FRED E. FOLDVARY, Ph.D., (May 11, 1946 — June 5, 2021) was an economist who wrote weekly editorials for Progress.org since 1997. Foldvary’s commentaries are well respected for their currency, sound logic, wit, and consistent devotion to human freedom. He received his B.A. in economics from the University of California at Berkeley, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University. He taught economics at Virginia Tech, John F. Kennedy University, Santa Clara University, and San Jose State University.

Foldvary is the author of The Soul of LibertyPublic Goods and Private Communities, and Dictionary of Free Market Economics. He edited and contributed to Beyond Neoclassical Economics and, with Dan Klein, The Half-Life of Policy Rationales. Foldvary’s areas of research included public finance, governance, ethical philosophy, and land economics.

Foldvary is notably known for going on record in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology in 1997 to predict the exact timing of the 2008 economic depression—eleven years before the event occurred. He was able to do so due to his extensive knowledge of the real-estate cycle.