Fallacy that turns around treating things
of one kind as if they are things of
There are many kinds of category mistakes.
One very common and popular one, especially in
political contexts and discussions, is
to treat classes of people as if they are individuals and have the
properties individuals have but classes lack.
Thus, kind X - liberals, proletarians, women, the government, the
state etc. - is supposed to 'feel', 'want', 'desire', 'believe' all
manner of things that, at most, only some of the individuals of
those kinds in these groups can and may do.
It should be noted this particular category mistake is in fact
the standard way in which political
problems are discussed by many serious people in many serious
One reason for the popularity of (and blindness to) this particular
fallacy is that it also allows its perpetrators to be awfully vague
while sounding quite definite when using quantifying terms. For one who
believes it makes sense or is unproblematical to speak (and write and
think) in terms of kind X 'feels', 'wants', 'desires', 'believes' etc.
is that it therewith becomes natural and unproblematical to speak of
'the X' or 'X' doing all these things only individuals can do in fact:
"The French want ...', 'Women desire ...', 'Capitalism exploits ...',
'The masses want ...', 'Our government believes ...'.
Here it helps especially to reason fallaciously while sounding
sensibly and conclusively if one omits
quantifying terms like 'all', 'most', 'some' or 'a few': It is so
much easier to think and talk in terms of 'Women believe ...', 'Men
desire ...' etc. and thus attribute feelings and beliefs to millions
incoherently and vaguely that are in fact at most true of a fraction of
the individuals of the groups mentioned at some times, but are
formulated as if they hold for all of the individuals of those groups
for all times and circumstances.
This fallacious practice also makes it easy and natural to attribute
good and bad qualities of individual humans to millions of them in one
verbal move: 'The French are sensual', 'Women are hysterical', 'The
masses fight for their rights', 'The government thinks'. At the same
time, it makes the attribution of individual responsibility to
individual men and women much more difficult.