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The generality problem is determining when to count individuals as part of a group.

It crops up in many places. In Epistemology, Reliabilism has a difficult time describing how general processes are. That is, if just “seeing” is a process, or if “seeing through fog” and “seeing through water” and “seeing through air” should be counted as different processes (and therefore have different amounts of reliability when trying to determine the truth about the world).

It also appears in the philosophy of statistics: when should we assume that the samples represent the population?

And similarly, in interactions with people: when should we assume that a person is representative of any larger identities that they may have? Does one person who follows a particular religion represent the entire religion?

They’re all the exact same idea. When can we determine when an individual is a part of a group and say something about that group based on the individual?

Are there any solutions to this problem?

I imagine a solution will probably consist of criteria as to when an individual can or cannot be considered part of a larger group. (But there may be other ways if answering that I haven’t considered.)

To be clear, I do not want solutions which only apply to Reliabilism. (However, most solutions which apply to Reliabilism will likely apply to the other situations as well.)

  • This seems to be the 'sorites' problem. It's a matter of judgement, it seems to me, not a problem that has a general solution. – PeterJ Dec 31 '18 at 13:25
  • You seem to have two separate issues, deciding how to form a group, and deciding whether an individual, or a sample of them, is representative of an already formed group. On the first, wouldn't a solution depend on the purpose for which the individuals are collected into the group, and thereby not be general? On the second, they have plenty of sampling recommendations in statistics. And again, "representative" for what purpose? Purpose-specificity seems to be inherent in both tasks. – Conifold Dec 31 '18 at 13:27
  • @Conifold I believe you are correct that there are two separate problems – Pro Q Jan 1 at 10:26
  • @PeterJ I also was thinking about the similarities between this and the Sorites problem while writing it, but they didn’t seem quite similar enough. Instead of asking “Is the heap of sand still a heap if I take a grain?” I’m more asking either “When is it useful to define something as a heap of sand?” or “If I see a grain of sand in a heap of sand, can I expect that grain to be similar to other grains in the same heap?” – Pro Q Jan 1 at 10:34
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    @ProQ - I see what you mean. As each individual is unique in some way then the group is a conceptual creation and I'd guess the rules for membership are entirely a matter of definition. In the end the formation of any group requires ignoring certain distinct differences between the members, even it's just spatial location. So perhaps there's always something arbitrary or artificial about groups. Not an answer, I know. – PeterJ Jan 1 at 13:54

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