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Encyclopedia > Equivocation

Equivocation, also known as amphibology, is classified as both a formal and informal fallacy. It is the misleading use of a word with more than one meaning (by glossing over which meaning is intended at a particular time). In philosophy, the term logical fallacy properly refers to a formal fallacy : a flaw in the structure of a deductive argument which renders the argument invalid. ... In Philosophical logic, an informal fallacy is a pattern of reasoning which is false due to the falsity of one or more of its premises. ...

Contents

Examples

Equivocation is the use in a syllogism (a logical chain of reasoning) of a term several times, but giving the term a different meaning each time. For example: A syllogism (Greek: — conclusion, inference), usually the categorical syllogism, is a kind of logical argument in which one proposition (the conclusion) is inferred from two others (the premises) of a certain form. ...

A feather is light.
What is light cannot be dark.
Therefore, a feather cannot be dark.

In this use of equivocation, the word "light" is first used as the opposite of "heavy", but then used as a synonym of "bright" (the fallacy usually becomes obvious as soon as one tries to translate this argument into another language). Because the "middle term" of this syllogism is NOT one term, but two separate ones masquerading as one (all feathers are indeed "not heavy", but is NOT true that all feathers are "not bright"), equivocation is actually a kind of the fallacy of four terms. The middle term is the term that occurs in both premises (but not in the conclusion) of a categorical syllogism. ... A syllogism (Greek: — conclusion, inference), usually the categorical syllogism, is a kind of logical argument in which one proposition (the conclusion) is inferred from two others (the premises) of a certain form. ... The fallacy of four terms (Latin: quaternio terminorum) is a logical fallacy that occurs when a three-part syllogism has four terms. ...


The fallacy of equivocation is often used with words that have a strong emotional content and many meanings. These meanings often coincide within proper context, but the fallacious arguer does a semantic shift, slowly changing the context as they go in such a way to achieve equivocation by treating distinct meanings of the word as equivalent.


In English language, one equivocation is with the word "man", which can mean both "member of species Homo sapiens" and "male member of species Homo sapiens". A well-known equivocation is The English language is a West Germanic language that originates in England. ...

"Do women need to worry about man-eating sharks?"

where "man-eating" is taken as "devouring only male human beings".


A separate case of equivocation is metaphor:

A Jackass is a male member of the species Equus asinus
All Jackasses have long ears
Karl is a jackass
Therefore, Karl has long ears

Here the equivocation is the metaphorical use of "jackass" to imply a stupid or obnoxious person instead of a male ass. Binomial name Equus asinus The donkey or ass (Equus asinus) is a domesticated animal of the horse family, Equidae. ...

Margarine is better than nothing
Nothing is better than butter
Therefore margarine is better than butter

This equivocation exploits two different meanings of the word "nothing" to come to an apparent conclusion about the relative merits of two different things without actually making reference to any of their respective merits. In the first statement, "nothing" really means "dry bread" (such that the sentence means "it is preferable to have margarine [on bread] than nothing at all"), whereas in the second, it means, literally, "no thing" (so the sentence means "there exists no thing that is better than butter").


Specific types of equivocation fallacies

See main articles: False attribution, Fallacy of quoting out of context, Loki's Wager and No true Scotsman.

The fallacy of a false attribution occurs when an advocate appeals to an irrelevant, unqualified, unidentified, biased or fabricated source in support of an argument. ... It has been suggested that Contextomy be merged into this article or section. ... Lokis Wager is a form of logical fallacy. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with Special Pleading . ...

References

  • F.L. Huntley. "Some Notes on Equivocation: Comment", PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America Vol. 81, No 1, (March 1966), p.146.
  • A.E. Malloch. "Some Notes on Equivocation", PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America Vol. 81, No 1, (March 1966), pp 145–146.

External links

  • Equivocation as a figure of speech

See also


The fallacy of four terms (Latin: quaternio terminorum) is a logical fallacy that occurs when a three-part syllogism has four terms. ... In political discourse, if-by-whiskey is a relativist fallacy where the response to a question is contingent on the questioners opinion. ...


  Results from FactBites:
 
Logical Fallacy: Equivocation (460 words)
Equivocation is the type of ambiguity which occurs when a single word or phrase is ambiguous, and this ambiguity is not grammatical but lexical.
So, when a phrase equivocates, it is not due to grammar, but to the phrase as a whole having two distinct meanings.
Applying this to Alvaré's argument, it is true that the "humanity" of an embryo or fetus is medically undeniable, in the second sense of "human"—that is, it is a "human embryo or fetus".
The Effects of Equivocation on the Opinions of Potential Voters (1562 words)
This study looked at equivocation in political figures; however, unlike previous research we examined the impact that equivocation has on the audience of a political interview.
Equivocation is a form of nonstraightforward communication, which leaves elements of a message unclear or undefined (Bavelas, 1983).
It is the use of equivocation in political news interviews that is the focus of this study whether or not it truly serves its purpose.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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