Taxonomy: Logical Fallacy > Informal Fallacy > Overgenerality

Subfallacy: Hasty Generalization


As this is the 25th Anniversary of "Thriller" and, Mr. [Michael] Jackson’s worldwide sales have to date exceeded over 750 million units, Mr. Jackson is being recognised for his phenomenal, record-breaking achievements.1



There are two types of overgenerality:

  1. Overly-General Concepts: No concept is inherently overly general, but in a particular context of use it may be. For instance, if you were asked to aid in a search, it wouldn't be helpful to be told to look for a "thing". In this context, "thing" is an overly-general concept, since it won't help you to identify the lost object. Overly-general concepts are often used by politicians as a way to avoid commitment to particular policies, which is a type of "doublespeak".
  2. Overly-Broad Generalizations: To generalize is to draw a general conclusion from some evidence. To overgeneralize is to draw an overly-general conclusion that is unwarranted by the evidence. For instance, if I have seen only one swan and it was white, "all swans are white" would be an overgeneralization. Specifically, it would be an instance of the subfallacy of Hasty Generalization.


Overgenerality should not be confused with either vagueness or abstractness:

Analysis of the Example:

This example, taken from a letter written by a publicist for Michael Jackson, is overly general in describing Jackson's supposed sales of 750 million "units". What is a "unit": a record, a song, or some combination of the two? This is the first type of over-generality discussed above in the Exposition, that is, an overly-general concept. Presumably, "unit" was used by the publicist because it allowed for the exaggeration of Jackson's sales and, thus, of his popularity.

A number of news organizations apparently thought that a "unit" was an album, and reported that Jackson had sold 750 million albums. For instance, BBC News claimed that it was a fact that: "Michael Jackson is the third biggest-selling pop act of all time, after The Beatles and Elvis Presley, with album sales of 750 million."2 Thus, the overly-general concept led some news organizations to draw an unwarranted conclusion.


  1. Raymone K. Bain, "Letter", King of Pop, 10/31/2006.
  2. "Twelve Facts about Michael Jackson", BBC News, 6/26/2009. See also: