The Journal of Philosophy

Volume 114, Issue 8, August 2017

Sarah-Jane Leslie
Pages 393-421

The Original Sin of Cognition
Fear, Prejudice, and Generalization

Generic generalizations such as ‘mosquitoes carry the West Nile virus’ or ‘sharks attack bathers’ are often accepted by speakers despite the fact that very few members of the kinds in question have the predicated property. Previous work suggests that such low-prevalence generalizations may be accepted when the properties in question are dangerous, harmful, or appalling. This paper argues that the study of such generic generalizations sheds light on a particular class of prejudiced social beliefs, and points to new ways in which those beliefs might be undermined and combatted.