Saturday, 11 October 2008

The fallacy of making a generalisation particular

If I'd had a pound for every time I've read a fallacy of this nature in a Bible commentary...

The quality of the Greek in the letter of James presents a real problem. A Galilean peasant like James would certainly have known Greek, but it is unlikely that he would have been able to write the high quality Greek of this letter.

The author of this remark then goes on to hunt for solutions for the imagined problem; for example, that in fact the letter is not a letter written by James but a collection of his sayings collated by another editor.

If the fallacy isn't obvious, here's a concrete example of it:

Nairobi is in the third world, a poor place. It's very unlikely that a man living there could have his own laptop, mobile phone and Internet connection and be posting blogs on the Internet. Perhaps, then, "More Than Words" isn't David's blog, but a collection of his remarks that someone else in the West has thrown together and put in his name.

That must be a fallacy, because I seem to be doing just that. Just because millions, the vast majority, of people living in Nairobi don't own laptops, doesn't mean that this particular one doesn't. Likewise, to say that the majority of Galileans wouldn't write polished Greek is one thing... to then conclude that not even one Galilean could possibly, even when aged at least 50 and having lived in the capital of Judean culture and learning for a couple of decades, have written fine Greek, is something else entirely. And to then go on a build up a speculative theory that in fact someone else wrote it, is madness. Yet this madness passes for critical scholarship in many quarters of the academy...

1 comment:

Jhangora said...

Cool blog.Lot's of interesting stuff.