Generalization is a foundational element of logic and human reasoning. Generalization posits the existence of a domain or set of elements, as well as one or more common characteristics shared by those elements. As such, it is the essential basis of all valid deductive inference. The process of verification is necessary to determine whether a generalization holds true for any given situation.

The concept of generalization has broad application in many related disciplines, sometimes having a specialized context-specific meaning.

For any two related concepts, A and B; A is considered a generalization of concept B if and only if:

  • every instance of concept B is also an instance of concept A; and
  • there are instances of concept A which are not instances of concept B.

For instance, animal is a generalization of bird because every bird is an animal, and there are animals which are not birds (dogs, for instance). (See also: specialization).

Hypernym and hyponym

This kind of generalization versus specialization (or particularization) is reflected in either of the contrasting words of the word pair hypernym and hyponym. A hypernym as a generic stands for a class or group of equally-ranked items, such as tree does for beech and oak; or ship for cruiser and steamer. Whereas a hyponym is one of the items included in the generic, such as lily and daisy are included in flower, and bird and fish in animal. A hypernym is superordinate to a hyponym, and a hyponym is subordinate to hypernym.

Cartographic generalization of geo-spatial data

Generalization has a long history in cartography as an art of creating maps for different scale and purpose. Cartographic generalization is the process of selecting and representing information of a map in a way that adapts to the scale of the display medium of the map. In this way, every map has, to some extent, been generalized to match the criteria of display. This includes small-scale maps, which cannot convey every detail of the real world. Cartographers must decide and then adjust the content within their maps to create a suitable and useful map that conveys geospatial information within their representation of the world.

Generalization is meant to be context-specific. This is to say that correctly generalized maps are those that emphasize the most important map elements while still representing the world in the most faithful and recognizable way. The level of detail and importance in what is remaining on the map must outweigh the insignificance of items that were generalized, as to preserve the distinguishing characteristics of what makes the map useful and important.

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