The Journal of Contemporary Legal Issues


In day-to-day life, one is compelled to compare. In replying to a question on one’s favorite things, one will group them together based on the satisfaction one is provided with, leaving out the rest. In discussing the issue of spiteful people, one is promptly reminded of some common features of individuals whose actions typically meet the required criteria (or the criteria one sets for such category). In metaphorical speech—for instance, by descriptively asserting that “no man is an island”—one grounds the assertion on past knowledge of the prototypical isolation of islands to, then, negate the transfer of such features to human beings, also based on past knowledge that they lack self-sufficiency and require partaking in any kind of community to thrive. Lastly, if one wishes to open a box with no scissors or knifes at hand, one might try with a key, if sharp enough: by purporting to do so, one is setting an analogy insofar one is transferring structural information (functionality for said purpose, i.e., the active disposition to cut through) from a source (scissors and knifes) to a target (sharp-enough keys).

The capacity to set analogies and categorize is naturally limited by many things: I have no intention to be exhaustive, thus I will just name a few. It is limited, on the one hand, by the information included in the knowledgebase (e.g., one cannot list skydiving as a favorite thing if one has not even heard about it) and, on the other, by the degree of what in cognitive psychology is called “perceptual similarity,” which is developed with age and acquisition of expertise. It is also limited by the set of terms of comparison: analogies and categories always fall prey to the availability bias which consists in heavily weighing judgments toward more recent information, making new opinions biased toward latest news. Thirdly, it would also be naïf to claim that reasoning by analogy is not impacted by background theories, to the extent that it is claimed that all knowledge is “theory-infused.” Analogies and categories are formulated in a context of tendency, related to cognitive dissonance, to seek or interpret information in such a way that it confirms one’s preconceptions and discredit that which does not support it. Furthermore, similarities are somehow dependent upon people’s underlying representations—beliefs and phenomenal experience, —not necessarily based on whether they represent simple, descriptive properties. The issue of these “salient similarities” becomes very clear, for instance, in discussions regarding descriptive similarities of same-sex couples if the discussants do not share underlying representations. Naturally, that is linked with the “status quo” bias towards things remaining relatively the same and avoiding disruptions and “stereotyping”—that is, hoping for a member of the projected category to possess certain properties and behave in a certain way without having any relevant information about that particular.





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Larry Alexander & Steven D. Smith

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