Absolutes claims, and why they should be avoided.


Absolute claims. Every thing, everyone, all, without exception. These are terms I’ve grown to dislike, and are terms I try to eliminate from my vocabulary. Why I do this is because I am not willing to say things are absolutely true, with a few exceptions. The certainty granted by these kinds of absolute statements are a powerful thing. Both when you talk with others and powerful in how it makes you think.

When we talk in certainties we not only run into the problem of misleading those we are talking too, but we can, in the long run, end up tricking ourselves into thinking that we are more certain then we actually have any right to be. There is some truth to those saying which go along the line of: Say something enough and it’ll become true. At least in our own minds that is. When we talk in unwarranted certainties we modify the dialogue we create a culture where where generalizations are true, where the complex is made to look simple, models (think economics) are instead facts of reality, and should it go on long enough soon lies and misconceptions become difficult to pull from the nuggets of wisdom. I’m not going to say this is 100% fact either, but it is how I see things to some extent. My solution is the try to strip much of the excess certainty out of my words as I can. Now I am certain of some thing things, and for those few things I and willing to claim certainly, but if I am unsure or can think of exceptions I think it is important to voice those as caveats in my language. Degrees of certainty are perfectly alright, but complete certainty is rarely warranted.

If I use terms like all, or every I better mean it, otherwise fundamentally I’m being unintentionally misleading at best, or outright lying at worst. I’ll grant a caveat to (obvious) hyperbole, and although it has a place it still shouldn’t be over used. I find by saying just a few extra words we not only become more truthful, but we can more easily open the door to discussion and the complexities which underlie the world we live on. Well that and just become better communicators, you can get yourself into all kinds of trouble with a careless statement. Particularly when grouping people together.

A small and related exercise I regularly do is just to think about the possibility space surrounding an issue. The most practical one is to try to come up with a wide variety of reasons for why a person do an action. For example for us drivers, if some one cuts your off or otherwise drives by erratically. While It’s perfectly normal to think they are insane or morons, or otherwise incompetent in the area of operating motor vehicles. However, don’t stop there, start thinking about more nuanced reasons for why they drove like they did. Perhaps they we’re tired, or distracted, think about reasons what they could be distracted or tired or what have you. Not only do you build your empathy muscles doing this, but you also get good at thinking about the sorts of possibles that exist, and the ways an outcome can arrive from many dissimilar sources. It helps us move away from our human tendencies towards black and white thinking, and otherwise over simplifying the world around us.

So what do you think about absolute statements, and the use of certainty in language? Leave a comment down below!

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23 responses to “Absolutes claims, and why they should be avoided.

  • splittranscendence

    “When we talk in unwarranted certainties we modify the dialogue we create a culture where where generalizations are true, where the complex is made to look simple, models (think economics) are instead facts of reality, and should it go on long enough soon lies and misconceptions become difficult to pull from the nuggets of wisdom.”

    It is with certainty, I feel, that generalized certainties are dangerous. Stretching truths, ignoring facts… The foundation of humanity is built upon absolutes–the foundation of artificial realities are based upon generalizations.

    I’m exploring the minds of Leary, Foucault, Certeau, Todd, Descartes–and what I am consistently coming back to are the absolutes of the human body. The we are flesh and bone, that our bodies have nutritional and emotional needs, that we are from the surface to the core, human.
    Beyond race, beyond gender, beyond boundaries, we are human.

    Liked by 1 person

  • D.N.B.

    This comment thread reads like my own mind in a recent blog I made here on uncertainty.
    I agree with you on the misuse of absolutes in speech and writing, and it is an easy thing to fall into, especially for a free form writer like myself. I write stream of thought, and so it is in editing that I have to catch my phrases as I may well drop an “all” or “every” in SOT.

    Liked by 1 person

    • equippedcat

      Note that “all” or “every” does not have to be explicit. It is often implied.

      For instance, “people who are obese have high blood pressure” does not have an “all” in it, but the listener tends to perceive it. In order to avoid this, the speaker should do the work of adding non-universal words. “Often, people who are obese have high blood pressure.”

      Further afield, we have statements of singularity, in which “all” or “every” makes no sense, but the statement has some degree of controversy. For instance, “God created everything in 6 days” tends to cause controversy, since some people hearing will disagree completely or at least partially. Since it is not a statement which can be adequately supported, the person issuing it has the responsibility of adding enough qualifiers so the the listener has the option to deal with the statement on equal footing.

      Thus, “I believe that God created everything in 6 days” would seem to be the minimum, and “I believe that God created everything in 6 time periods each representing a day in our view” would be even better. Of course, the people who will reliably go to this amount of trouble seem to be able to be counted on the thumbs of one hand. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  • Keith Seiber

    This is sonething i agree with. I too have tried to police myself in this regard.

    Like

  • equippedcat

    I’m certain that you are absolutely right on this 🙂

    It is very common that people take a thought or belief or assumption or theory and imbue it with characteristics of “TRUTH”. It is sort of understandable, but not truly useful. If a person has some degree of connection to a piece of information, then to have it questioned can be seen as questioning that person. So a natural inclination is to present the information in the strongest possible terms as a means of self protection and assurance. Unfortunately, this has the (usually) unintended side effect of causing contention with those who have an opposing view, and tends to cause distrust in those who have no connection with the information (or at least the wise ones).

    Liked by 1 person

  • lonebonekaffekone

    Thanks for this post. Nuances are messy and add complexity – cutting out the complexity to make meaning is the mastery of spin doctors and Mad Men used to persuade. Absolutes reduce complexity and make life simple. Unless we think for ourselves 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • hessianwithteeth

      Self reflection critical thinking, self direction These are thinks rooted in complexity, and are hard to do, and even harder to do right. When we oversimplify and paint things black and white we cheat ourselves from the opportunity to truly contend with the world. Simple stories are nice but a pleasant lie is still a lie. I’d prefer to face the truth.

      Liked by 1 person

  • A Psychopath and a Scholar

    Great article. I think people often use broad terms to make speech easier, such as saying “Americans love TV” rather than “many Americans love TV.” However, I would definitely agree that people should try not to speak in this way. I especially think this is important when educating and debating, and in these situations I think one should always use statements like “I personally believe” or “I feel the evidence suggests.”
    I personally believe that teaching children your beliefs as fact is actually a form of unintentional child abuse. I was raised being told 2+2=4 and Jesus created the world in 6 days like they were both equally true. Thus when I questioned the latter, many of my peers treated me poorly and assumed I was an idiot because they were raised to believe creation was a fact. I actually wrote an article about the different types of thinkers and the dangers of dogmatism if you’re interested at all. https://apsychopathandascholar.wordpress.com/2015/04/21/the-4-types-of-thinkers/

    Like

  • Randomness Expressed

    Ha! I wrote about this yesterday. It came about because of my 14 yr old wanting to loan $60 to a friend and my ex saying, “It is up to you, but if you loan money you WILL come across someone who will NOT pay it back.” He put a hard line in the sand and I didn’t like it.

    Like

  • entropy

    Seek for truth and try to use the language you use as careful as you may.

    That’s my rap-up. 🙂

    Like

  • Becca

    This is so fantastic! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  • rura88

    The use of absolute claims has been programmed into our minds through philosophers like Aristotle and Plato. Later the Roman Catholic church with its scholastic doctrine made things worse by fusing philosophy, science and religion to support its political power.

    Over time I have come to appreciate the subtleness of the Eastern perspective. Think of Daoism and its more pantheistic perspective.

    Absolute claims can partly be avoided. Even so the English language is riddled with linguistic formulations that “absolutise” a statement by simply emphasising “I” as subject. I stick to emphasising context over opinion as much as possible.

    Like

  • R T Allwin

    Reblogged this on Chimaeral and commented:
    My reblog for this week is something that resonates deeply with me – we are often all too quick to embrace perceived truths without staying open to alternatives:

    Like

  • myatheistlife

    Are you certain about that?

    Liked by 1 person

  • myangelofangels

    I have to agree with you. When anyone tells me that they or someone has all the answers to whatever. I immediately know that that person has no idea as to what they are talking about. In this universe, there are no absolutes. And the confusing continuation to that is … Of this, we are absolutely sure. But still, there are no absolutes in this universe.

    Like

  • aberrebi

    the other word that drives me crazy, especially in business, is assume. I assumed they got there, tells me that’s they didn’t do their job.

    Like

    • hessianwithteeth

      Well admitting your assumptions is a good thing in my experience, and assumptions are ultimately unavoidable in the long run, but yes there is such thing as assuming too much, and people are far more likely to assume too much then to assume to little.

      Liked by 2 people

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